Just after a contentious election came Thanksgiving, and now it’s on to Christmas. Electoral turmoil is over. What’s left, of course, is just as divisive as it was prior to the election. There is talk of mandates, misunderstood mandates, a full and total lack of mandates, and any number of surveys on the passing scene, depending from which angle you’re looking.
Your angle, it’s safe to say, is slightly different from the Transportation Security Agency worker’s who gazes daily into the backscatter x-ray machine’s monitor. And happily, it is yet more different from the TSA pat-down agent’s. Just a few months ago, the pat-down was a random event, or saved for people who have medically implanted metal somewhere in their body. More recently, though, the pat-down agent became a beleaguered mid-section specialist, a thin blue-gloved line against the seasonal horde of travelers, most of whom have nothing more malevolent in mind than getting to the home place for turkey or to open presents.
Somehow, the TSA flap was the perfect cap for a rambunctious season of politics. Our collective view on public safety and security is politics at its purest. Debate of what works, what doesn’t and what we lose or gain in the process is subjective. Everyone will have an opinion. And, everyone’s opinion counts. Because when we talk about security, we’re talking about the safety of our family and loved ones.
Thanksgiving and Christmas, or The Holidays, if you prefer, put it all to light because it’s our loved ones who are on the move. Our society may be increasingly rootless, but “home for the holidays” still carries weight. We have extended our geographical range, but family is family. Home is home.
Years past, as I drove into Kansas City on Thanksgiving Day and saw the outbound lanes much more congested than those heading into town, I’d assume carloads of urban folks were destine for grandpa and grandma’s house in the country.
I used the term “home place” a few lines ago because I’m wont to colloquialize when I have the occasion. I cling to the rural lexicon because when I travel in Today’s Farmer country I still see farm and rural living as something of an antidote to the highway or the airport at Thanksgiving.
When it comes to lifestyles, farming isn’t an easily transferable trade. You are tied to the land. And farm families, long accustomed to being tied to the land, know that the family members are tied to each other as well.
Small towns work the same way. Surnames survive for generations in small towns, proving that even when the town may not seem to offer much, there is reason to stay.
Sure, sometimes it blows up. Sure, there may be scandal. People leave the small town. Family members leave, too. Today’s demographics prove that I was wrong to think that everyone on eastbound I-70 at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning was headed to grandma’s house. The days when a great number of grandmas are in the country wane quickly.
Still, the season—its travelers and its meaning—evokes something of a rural truth. This time of year, I frequently recall a passage I pulled from a Web site called the New Pantagruel a few years ago. The passage was written to notify readers that the site would soon go dark. But it’s a good message for those of us in small towns at this time of year:
We believe that to suffer one’s place and one’s people in the particularity of its and their needs is the only true basis for finding love, friendship, and an authentic, meaningful life. This is nothing less than the key to the pursuit of Christian holiness, which is the whole of the Christian adventure: to live in love with the frailty and limits of one’s existence, suffering the places, customs, rites, joys, and sorrows of the people who are in close relation to you by family, friendship, and community—all in service of the truth, goodness, and beauty that is best experienced directly. The discipline of place teaches that it is more than enough to care skillfully and lovingly for one’s own little circle, and this is the model for the good life, not the limitless jurisdiction of the ego, granted by a doctrine of choice, that is ever seeking its own fulfillment, pleasure, and satiation.
And even if successive generations have fled rural living and now live in a larger and less intimate community, many of them will take that TSA pat-down to get home—to those custom rites and joys—at least for the holidays.