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Thursday, January 26

Small Town-ness


Growing up in a small town comes with such a mixed bag of experience, an unmistakable flavor.  While many will vehemently argue that the small town experience encourages cultural isolation or inexperience an insular ways, I've realized recently that there is a certain emotional phenomenon that, I think, results from this same small town experience.  For lack of a better description, I guess it's just a small town-ness that can't be dismissed. 

I recently watched a documentary called Hey, Boo:  Harper Lee & To Kill A Mockingbird.  This novel was a repeating theme in my life from elementary school up through a book club I attended in the not-so-distant past, but I never really knew a whole lot about Harper Lee.  So, this documentary motivated me to learn some more about her by reading the transcripts of the few interviews she's ever done.  One of Harper Lee's key concepts in her writing of this novel was to capture and preserve rural Southern culture.  She elaborated on its differences from urban culture.  Everything from its (former) lack of industrialization, resulting in more interaction between people and less distraction, to its lack of cultural events came up as things that helped shape the rural cultural landscape.  She also stated many times that she wanted to capture the universality inherent in this culture, just as many authors had formerly captured universality in other (particularly urban) instances.  This made me think about growing up in Wheeling and what could be drawn from that as particularly unique and also universal. 

One thing that I kept returning to is how, in this small town setting, everyone knows everyone.  This is not always true in Wheeling, but it's almost guaranteed that if you don't know someone, there is someone in your close circle who knows that person.  And sometimes, there's even a realization that you do actually know the person.  In any case, after some reflection, I finally arrived at a "so what?" about this small town phenomenon.  This is where the small town-ness comes in.  I believe, in my own case at least, it created a strong sense of empathy from a young age.  The empathy grows out of the fact that you usually do have some personal tie to almost everyone, so when anything happens, there is a closeness to it that you don't always have in larger cities and towns.  You grieve with families on a regular basis, as they lose loved ones, young and old.  You share in their joys with the addition of generations and promotions and other successes.  You rally with the community in concern when an outcome is in limbo, threatening. 

In any case, what this experience created for me was a universal sense of empathy.  There is a closeness that I feel to all people, regardless of where they reside on this great planet, because all I've known is to feel this closeness.  I think that it creates a rich sense of community and unity, regardless of whether this is at work, at home or abroad.  It is my nature to meet someone new and desire a closeness, often dismissing any sense of competition, superiority or sense of "other."  It could easily be interpreted more widely as a form of gossip or drama, but in reflecting on my own experience, I think I would say I feel fortunate to have lived this experience.  It has instilled in me an unwaivering sense of appreciation and interconnectedness with others.  And that, my friends, is a fulfilling experience.    

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