Maybe it was growing up in a small town. I do remember being home one summer in my early 20s, and biking downtown, stopping at the train tracks which were next to the lumber yard and across from Richland Chevrolet, watching cars go by for awhile. It wasn’t hours, but over the next minutes I knew everyone who drove by—or at least I knew who they were related to, i.e. a father, a cousin, a grandparent, a child. It surprised me.
Even my hometown is no longer that town, but I have never forgotten the sense of belonging.
Today I teach the Fellows one more Monday, as I do throughout the academic year. We read many things together, with the principle assignment always being, “What do you think?” They read, and then bring in an essay and we listen, as carefully and critically as we can. Last week it was The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, twined together with Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson and The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen. And this morning we will respond to Wendell Berry’s collection of stories, That Distant Land, plus his address last spring for the Jefferson Prize at the National Endowment for the Humanities, “It All Turns on Affection.”
But I will also bring in Pixar’s “Cars,” musing over Lightning McQueen’s life, as he moves from autonomous individualism to an honest sense that belonging to a people and a place matters for human flourishing—even auto flourishing.
Another source today will be the recent essay in the Atlantic, “Relationships Are More Important Than Ambition: There’s More to Life Than Leaving Home.” Here are the first words:
“This month, many of the nation’s best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families — their homes — and probably not return for many years, if at all.”
There are over 200 responses to the essay, many in disagreement. But it rings true to me. We long to know and to be known, to love and to be loved. There is hardly anything that matters more to us—and we will do the craziest and stupidest things to belong to someone somewhere. I am sure that one of the faces of the social media world is primarily the promise it makes that we can be known.
Later on in the essay, we hear: “The assumption in our culture is that limiting freedom is detrimental to well-being. That is true to a point. Barry Schwartz, a psychological researcher based at Swarthmore College, has done extensive research suggesting that too much freedom — or a lack of constraints — is detrimental to human happiness. “Relationships are meant to constrain,’ Schwartz told me, ‘but if you’re always on the lookout for better, such constraints are experienced with bitterness and resentment.’”
That is as true for the Lighting McQueens of this world, as it is for you and me.