It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in the small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.He goes on to describe our natural tendency to form cliques of people with whom we very closely identify, and follows that with a description of the man or woman bent on adventure and new things.
And in all this he is still essentially fleeing from the street on which he was born; and of this flight he is always ready with his own explanation. He says he is fleeing from his street because it is dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing from his street because it is a great deal too exciting. It is because it is exacting; it is because it is alive.That last line grabs me in a particular way. It is because it is exacting. It is because it is alive.
Why am I thinking about this today? Today one of my many brothers is celebrating a birthday. But he is not celebrating it with family; he is at a facility for men with addiction problems. (I wonder how many of those wishing him a happy day on Facebook realize this?) And I wonder how often in my dealing with him, as well as with others, have I simply sought to avoid rather than embrace? How often have I sought to disregard the bonds that have been given to me, which I never asked for, and considered them an impingement upon my unfettered libertarian individualism? In other words, wouldn't it simply be easier to cut that person off in our lives who is inconvenient?
The answer, of course, is yes. It is easier. By far. But is this what is best, not only for them, but for us? Is it best to simply seek the easy life by cutting out all the people who rub us wrong, speak things we disagree with, make foolish choices, and otherwise inconvenience us? Should we really be seeking to avoid the exacting nature of interpersonal relationships? Or are we to embrace relationships of family, community, faith, in all of their messy dimensions? This seems the wiser option. We can run to where we feel comfortable. But will we grow in comfort? Character rarely grows in easy soil.
So as I contemplate what to write to my brother on this, his birthday apart, consider with me what it might look like in your life to quit avoiding serious, deep, relationships with people. For here is a joy, growth, and security far deeper than the pleasure of ease.