Vol 13, Num 7 :: 2014.04.04 — 2014.04.17
I have trouble keeping track of dates, like last week, when I should have seen it coming that the Annunciation of our Lord (March 25 — do the math) was going to fall right in the middle of making a major job decision. “May it be unto me according to your word,” Mary says, when the angel breaks the news that she’s being offered a very special assignment. I mean, really.
Likewise, over the past year, I’ve been caught off guard several times as my and my husband Rob’s names began appearing in the “10 Years Ago” feature in our local newspaper — for starting a fair trade store in 2003, for hosting a fair trade chocolate bake-off in 2004… Surely it hasn’t — oh, yes, I guess it has been: TEN YEARS. It’s surprising every time, in a good way.
Beyond just seeing my own life reflected in the time capsule, I’m grateful for our local paper because of the many ways it helps us remember who we are as a community. Unlike many other cities and towns in the U.S., Three Rivers still has a daily paper. Monday through Saturday, it arrives at our store, to be read by at least a dozen volunteers and customers before it heads to our friend’s woodstove. Together, we are saddened by the resignation and retirement of visionary citizens, encouraged by stories of others’ creativity and good work, mystified by the number of people who vote “no opinion” for the daily poll question, and, of course, delighted by eccentric classified ads (I really do wonder what happened in the end to those two “vintage” wooden tennis rackets that were listed in the Bargain Basement for over a year). If you want to know about a community, says our friend Becky (who, incidentally, co-writes a weekly column), pick up their newspaper. I wholeheartedly agree.
And yet: I also have to remember that every community has voices that don’t get heard, and faces that never, ever appear on the front page, in spite of any editor’s best efforts to be inclusive. I spend time listening to NPR on my way to and from work as an effort to stay connected to global news, but I try to be even more diligent about making time to listen to my local neighbors in real time, face to face. As Kathleen Norris notes in her essay “The Holy Use of Gossip,” sharing stories about ourselves and others we know is one of the best ways we can spend that precious time. Noting that the origins of the word “gossip” relate to the term for one who sponsors a baptism, Norris explores how, when done well, “gossip can help us give a name to ourselves.” She writes,
Like the desert tales that monks have used for centuries as a basis for a theology and a way of life, the tales of small-town gossip are often morally instructive, illustrating the ways ordinary people survive the worst that happens to them; or, conversely, the ways in which self-pity, anger, and despair can overwhelm and destroy them. Gossip is theology translated into experience. In it we hear great stories of conversion, like the drunk who turns his or her life around, as well as stories of failure. We can see that pride really does go before a fall, and that hope is essential. We watch closely those who retire, or who lose a spouse, lest they lose interest in living. When we gossip we are also praying, not only for them, but for ourselves.
Gossip, shared in love at the bar or on the sidewalk or in a shop, has helped me mourn with my neighbors, and celebrate with them. It’s revealed the enormous shoe size of an elderly gentleman in our neighborhood, which allowed us to orchestrate a very special Secret Santa gift for him from a generous shoe company. It’s helped me know who is in need of gentleness or encouragement or honesty. It’s helped me match up the random puzzle pieces of our community’s big ideas and practical gifts.
It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on in the world. It’s just that I think it’s important to be able to see it through the eyes of people in my community who have been told they don’t count. Because if I can’t learn to love even the most difficult, lonely people in my neighborhood, how can I ever hope to have anything but a passing pity for those who are struggling on the other side of the world? My local news, whether in print or spoken word, helps me do better, and shows me how far I have to go.