Thursday, January 12, 2017
Death, Illness, and Politics
Recently a neighbor of mine succumbed to cancer. Debbie was a friend I met through Misty Morning Walkers. Sadly, her cancer diagnosis came as a result of tests she had after she stumbled during one of those walks. While I wasn't with the group that morning, many were, and the group went into high gear once we knew our friend was sick. I have said before that if someone in Arden happens to post on Facebook that they have the sniffles, they will have a container of soup or a hot toddy or muffins delivered to their doorstep within the hour. With the news of cancer, a lone soup delivery person becomes a battalion of neighbors and a sea of plastic containers to return (that are then refilled in perpetuity).
At the last Dinner Gild dinner, one of the Misty Morning crew reflected on the occurrence of cancer in our village which she was afraid was higher than average. I told her that I didn't know if it was high or if, in the Ardens, we are constantly in contact with our neighbors so that it seems as if we are confronted with illnesses more directly. We get updates in real time, and not just because of social media, but because we talk, we visit, we sit on committees and go to activities with the spouse, parents, children, best friend, next door neighbor of the person who is sick. Neither is the patient herself hidden away in this community. During Debbie's illness, we saw her on walks when she was up to it, at Saturday night dinners, at cultural events. We had a group hug and prayer with her at Women in the Woods when she herself told us that the prognosis did not look good.
What does this have to do with politics? Everything. Over the past six months, I have been working with my friend Keri to get a labyrinth built on the Green in the town of Arden. We have gone to committee meetings, worked on proposals, raised money, and presented at town meeting. We have had to answer to those who objected to our plans and rally our supporters. I am currently serving on the Forest Committee after having been voted into the position. Mark is serving in a similar capacity on the Budget Committee and is up for election for the Board of Assessors. After only living here for two years, we are enmeshed in the politics of this town on a personal level. The thing about politics here is that the we are electing our neighbors, not some slick face we saw on a poster. The nitty-gritty work of the villages is done by volunteers. We have disagreements, but in the end, we have to live beside those with whom we disagree. And just because we lack accord on one issue, doesn't mean that we won't be in agreement on the next question that is put to the town. This is the complexity of passionate village life. Fiercely going head-to-head, debating minute points of order as well as larger issues, then turning around and sitting beside your detractor at dinner or working beside them at the children's games at the Arden Fair. We don't get to have the faceless debates that erupt on social media.
We are a village. We are doing the deep work of community. We love. We argue. We tend. We mourn. (A lot of this also involves the cooking and eating of food.) Before the town meeting where we had our final vote on the Labyrinth project, Keri and I made a temporary labyrinth on the proposed site of our permanent installation. Originally we were going to stand there and answer questions, but instead we decided to allow people to simply walk the path we had designated and to have their own experiences. It was days after our friend Debbie's death, and we wanted those who knew Debbie to have the opportunity to walk the labyrinth in her memory. Later that evening, our motion passed. The vote capped off what, for us, was a week of high tension and emotion.