The Ancient Rule of Neighborliness

The other day, my brother and I were having an e-mail dialogue about enduring local communities.  We discuss this all the time.  One of the e-mails he sent me ended with the following quote by Wendell Berry about the resurrection of local communities:

“But to be authentic, a true encouragement and a true beginning, this would have to be a resurrection accomplished mainly by the community itself.  It would have to be done, not from the outside by the instruction of visiting experts, but from the inside by the ancient rule of neighborliness, by the love of precious things, and by the wish to be at home.”

These two sentences, from Mr. Berry’s 1988 Iowa Humanities lecture, affected me and I wanted to read them in their greater context.  I found the lecture in full here and I copied it into a document I printed.  I read it twice and found myself shaking my head and underlining sentence after sentence.  Of course, for a woman who loves precious things like acorns, old tools, and all the things Uncle Bob has never thrown away, this lecture made sense to me.  Wendell Berry has a very gentle way to telling the ugly truth about where we are at this moment in time and history.

I also have a wish to be at home and this very well may be the reason I started writing this blog.

In the next few weeks and months, I want to write more about the alienation of modern life and my driving desire to be at home.  I think it would be instructive and helpful if all my blog readers were versed in Wendell Berry’s lecture.  By printing it off, readers can read it one bite at a time.  Chew on things, underline things, and question things.  A few people might consider discussing it with each other.  Why, I might make Eldena Jones Apple Dibble Dabble and invite a few of my friends over for a salon.

Meanwhile, back here at The Coop…

Some of my friends know I am selling my seaside condominium.  Selling real estate is an interesting project; it’s important that the buyer and seller agree to certain terms which are generally outlined in long, voluminous documents created by attorneys, bankers, and real estate professionals.  Sometimes, these arrangements are accomplished outside of this realm.  This is called a “private sale.”  When I was married and lived in Portland, Maine, my husband and I bought a house this way, from a kind Italian couple we loved very much.  Someday I will write a story about our lovely little home on Oakley Street.

The sale of The Coop has been gentle, like the purchase of the Oakley Street house.  I’m very grateful to have met another kind couple who like my little condo.  Not everyone, however, wants to have closets without doors.  I don’t know exactly why I removed all the closet doors so many years ago; I guess I liked to gaze upon my clothing when I woke up in the morning.

Silly idols.

I agreed to replace the doors because I could understand that this particular affectation was unique to me and installing a few closet doors was the least I could do to make The Coop a pleasant place to live for people who did not want to look at their clothing and shoes every time they wanted rest.

I’m not going to write a long and boring diatribe about the difficulties of finding a carpenter in New England in the glorious months before November rains fall.  Everyone is out straight.  Endless phone calls, visits to lumber yards and job sites, Facebook pleas, and crossed fingers resulted in nothing.

I entertained the notion of a hunger strike until the closet doors were hung.  Tomorrow’s “Minimalist” photo is the one I planned to use to promote my hunger strike on social media.

I was desperate.

Then, the clouds lifted and I remembered my friend Caleb from the Victory Garden.  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of him before; he’s a talented carpenter and a good friend.  I sent him a message at 6:22 a.m. on Monday morning.  He arrived at The Coop twenty-four hours later.

When I got back from a Moxie Committee meeting at home last night, all three closet doors were hung and they look stylish and neat.  The Coop really doesn’t look like The Coop any more.  I think I’ll stop calling it that.  It’s starting to look like a place someone else is going to make into their own place of peace.

I’m not very good at hunger strikes, either.  Thanks, Caleb, for demonstrating the ancient rule of neighborliness and helping me out.


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6 Responses to The Ancient Rule of Neighborliness

  1. Reggie Livingstone says:

    As local community decays along with local economy, a vast amnesia settles over the countryside. As the exposed and disregarded soil departs with the rains, so local knowledge and local memory move away to the cities, or are forgotten under the influence of homogenized salestalk, entertainment, and education. This loss of local knowledge and local memory—that is, of local culture—has been ignored, or written off as one of the cheaper “prices of progress”, or made the business of folklorists. Nevertheless, local culture has a value, and part of its value is economic. This can be demonstrated readily enough.

    For example, when a community loses its memory, its members no longer know each other. How can they know each other if they have forgotten or have never learned each other’s stories? If they do not know each other’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust each other? People who do not trust each other do not help each other, and moreover they fear each other. And this is our predicament now.

    The loss of trust that Berry cites is exactly what some other very sharp writers, namely Nicole Foss and Dmitri Orlov, have been pointing to. The whole world of trade and credit that brings New Jersey garbage to Kentucky, food to your local grocery store, or Chinese junk to your local Walmart exists on a structure that allows multiple people and businesses who have never met each other to trust each other.

    But when credit dies, Foss and Orlov warn–that is, when one bankrupt lender is no longer trusted by a producer or a shipper to pay because the lender has no assets or our dollar has become worthless–that trust horizon shrinks with frightening speed. Money is no longer the lubricant that extends commerce, and trust suddenly shrinks back to who you know and a man’s word, and the horizon shrinks to a day’s travel around you. Apply that mentally to Lisbon Falls. How many people who domicile there work there? Buy their groceries there? So when the trust horizon shrinks with the speed of an atomic blast shock wave, who will turn to whom?

    You have your work cut out for you, young lady. Fortunately, I know of no one more suited for the job.

    • In spite of the nervousness and the obstacles, the idea of being in one place and not needing to jet about in my Jeep opens a whole new world of opportunity. I am actually right in the middle between two CSA farms, both within walking distance.

      Stay tuned and thanks for the vote of confidence, Reggie!

  2. jbomb62 says:

    For years (more than a decade, I’m sure), I’ve been talking about Wendell’s Berry ancient wisdom, and the “ancient rule of neighborliness.” More often than not, my recommendations fall on deaf ears, or ears lacking the capacity to hear the message that I’m offering by way of wise men like Berry.

    It’s encouraging when people like you connect with it and better, go back to the talk and the context from where that wonderful quote comes from.

    As Mr. Livingstone notes, all of us who hearken back to older ways have our work cut out for us. That’s why the time has come to band together and seek out the like-minded, especially within a local radius.

    I will write about an experience that Miss Mary and I had last night, attending our first house concert. What a different way to experience something I’ve always been passionate about–music. The artist, Michael Holt, is a very interesting performer with values and a local mindset very much like Wendell Berry’s. Here is his website:

    • Jim,
      Thank you for sharing the link to Mr. Holt’s music. I am looking forward to reading your post about this event.

      I thought about the Berry quote for several days and decided it was important to understand the context in which he said it. As I’ve read through the complete text, it’s almost as if I could write a blog post about each paragraph. It’s rich and pungent and it’s taken time for it to ferment in my mind. Of course, we know about the goodness of fermentation!

      Let’s make sauerkraut, my brother!

  3. Mary Conant says:

    I just read this blog about the closet doors and I really got a chuckle. You are right about today’s workmen in that they are difficult to find for our needs. However, I am so glad that you remembered Caleb and he came through for you.

    I think it was kind of you to refer to us, the buyers, as a nice couple. We think you, the seller, is a nice person as well and hence why we were able to make a “private sale” work on both ends.

    I can hardly wait to see the new doors and Caleb’s workmanship.

    I like the name you have given to the condo, the coop, but I also like that you referred to it as your seaside home. I think we are going to be happy in it for many years. I only wish that now since we have gotten to know you better that you were not moving at all. Hugs, Mary

    • Dear Mary,

      There are a lot of beautiful things here by the sea and it’s a comfortable pace of life most of the time. It was a perfect place for me for a time, but as my brother reminded me, the reason I ended up here was because I was “running from” something and not “running to” something.

      Don’t worry, every time you open your closet doors, you will think about me and “how could she live without them?”

      Hugs to you and Dave!

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