On Monday, I went with two dear friends, Christy and Bob, to see Wendell Berry give the Jefferson lecture at the Kennedy Center. Read it here.
We listened with admiration as this hero of ours critiqued corporate America, capitalism, and agri-buisness in favor of an economic life rooted in the land and motivated by affection.
Early in the lecture, Berry divided people into two categories: Stickers and boomers. Berry implied that Boomers are the majority of Americans. Driven by money and success, they are mobile and ambitious. Quoting Wallace Stegner, Berry said:
' "Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.”2 'Like much of Berry's writing, his description of Stickers stirs up in me a longing for a life that's very different than the one I am living. It's a life marked by stability, roots, farming, family and faith. It's a simple life of contentment, hard work, and connection to people and land over time.
"Stickers...are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it."This is a life I've never known and I never will. I am, according to Berry, much more of a "Boomer" than a "Sticker." I live far from my family, have no connection to land, buy my food at a grocery store, shop online, and connect with the people closest to me over email, phone and skype much more often than in person.
And yet, if I need to put myself in one of these two categories, I would call myself a "sticker."
Perhaps I am delusional to think of myself this way.
The friends I went with to the lecture are in a similar position. All three of us are Midwesterners who have made our home in the craze of Washington DC. One has spent much of the last three years researching the roots of his family. The other has a lovely suburban home decorated with momentos of the family farm that recently was sold off to an energy company.
We come together in community in part because we know that something is amiss in the "boomer" life that we've all chosen. We try to be "stickers" where we are, even though we know we can't possibly have the integrity or character of Berry's ideal.
We also know that rural life and connection to the land aren't enough to create the kind of life together that Berry describes. We know the pain of the ruined small town with its meth labs and poverty (Berry would point to those as proof of what the agribusiness economy has destroyed).
We hope, and we believe, that affection can be the primary motivation for a boomer-ish life too. And so we feed one another with good food when we can. We play music and go on walks and visit each other in the hospital. We try to love the land. We all work, in our ways, to stop climate change and protect the environment. We share a faith not only in God but also in the love of one another. We say no to the powers that try to control us.
Berry would have a lot to critique about our lives, but this much is true: In the face of a world of mobility and disconnection, true affection can still emerge as the primary motivation. Thanks to Bob and Christy, and all those friends who help me chose the alternative, the life that turns on affection.