When I was in college or graduate school, I remember my parents starting to get together once a year with three other couples for what they called “The Last Hurrah.” They had all lived in the same town and been friends at the time I was under 5 years old, but two of the couples, including my parents, had moved away. Life intervened, and only when children were grown and gone did they establish the pattern of getting together for what was a series of “Last Hurrahs,” drawing the group together from across the country.
I experienced a similar pattern when a group of friends from college began to get together occasionally after a 17 year period of not seeing each other. Scattered across the country, with several of us having moved several times, we’ve met in Montana, Michigan, Manitoba, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. My daughters view this group much like I viewed my parents’ “Last Hurrah” group.
I have been thinking lately about the scale at which I experience my closest relationships. At one point in my life, it would have been at the local scale, but as I have taken on new opportunities over time to serve at higher levels, with its resulting moves, I have begun to see my closest relationships existing at a national or even international scale. I had a conversation around this topic this morning, as I ate lunch at Sugar Mags in Gloucester, MA with friends from out of state who had come to visit–are we examples of life in the post-modern world, where we envision our deep relational network as a web that exists far above the local level? Or is this spatial pattern the result of the vocational positions that we occupy where all relationships at the local level are related to these positions of responsibility?
I feel like I am walking lightly in the place where I live, not deeply embedded in the local community in the same way as I was when my children were young and our lives focused on their school, the neighborhood, church activities, and local events. Tulip Time has been replaced with international meeting of the CCCU in L.A. Friday night coffee at the local bookstore has been replaced with visits from friends from afar, or skype conversations. Have I become, what one essayist called, “The rootless professor?”
For a geographer, who has written on the importance of place, this is all a bit troubling. It is especially troubling because I have often quoted Christopher Lasch who argued that we loved particular people and places, rather than “the world”–the world being far too abstract. Am I living at a scale that inhibits depth?
I haven’t yet drawn any conclusions on whether this new weightlessness in terms of the local community is the result of my life experience which has resulted in an accumulation of places and relationships, of my positions of leadership, or more generally the result of post-modern life. What I do know is that, when taking a walk on a beautiful fall day recently near my house, a whole string of antique horse-drawn carriages came by, filled with individuals in Victorian-era clothing and I have no clue as to what was going on. Everyone around me seemed to know what the occasion was, but as I walked I had been thinking about the international rankings in higher education and my skype meeting with the Dean from Hang Seng College in Hong Kong.