Monday, March 18, 2013

American Idyll

In the small apartment building where my wife and I lived in Yalova, Turkey from 1971-73, there was a crack in the plaster above one doorway. The cracked plaster had appeared after a small earth tremor in this very seismically active area. Early one summer morning as we were awakening, the bed shook a bit. We looked up to see the ceiling light fixtures, suspended only by their cords, swinging gently. After several seconds they stopped. Thankfully. We are alive today because that gentle tremor was just that, not the huge shock that destroyed the entire town in 1999.

How we wept when the day came in 1973 to leave this small apartment that had been the only home we had ever known as a young married couple. I would not trade our humble beginnings there for anything. For all around us was a seaside town that supplied everything we needed for life. There were little corner stores and neighborhood bread bakeries on nearly every block. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Hardware stores. Paint stores. Lumber dealers. Flower shop. Butcher shops. Car repair. Ceramic tile manufacturing. Restaurants. Appliances, housewares. All there. Women wore head scarves and more traditional attire--OR current fashion with their hair down and skirts above the knee. Even blue jeans. And five times a day the call to prayer.

Best thing of all was what people did on summer evenings before television changed even this part of the world: whole families went out for evening strolls. Mom, Dad and the kids--children walking holding their hands, infants and toddlers in strollers. Talking, greeting neighbors. Eye contact. Fresh air, exercise. Family. Music at outdoor cafes and restaurants along the sea wall. Doors to apartments not only unlocked but even left wide open when people went out to shop or stroll.

Nobody looking at glowing displays in their hands. 40 years ago but within living memory. Food, clothing, shelter, basic health care and work that provides these things, or community that does. None of the other "stuff" is really of value unless there is community. Too much stuff, which isn't really all that much, comes at a very high price: our souls.

It wasn't America, yet it was far more like the America that we were--but no longer are--than we might care to admit.

What else do we have in common with the rest of the world that we seem to have lost in pursuit of American exceptionalism?  Has the thought ever occurred to us?

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