Thinking globally

When I lived inside the Washington Beltway, it seemed completely unremarkable that I had no roots in the place. Everyone else I knew came from elsewhere, too.

But where I live now, in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, it's different.

One of our boy's best friends is from a family named Jones, and he lives on the eastern flank of Jones Ridge. And when we go for walks on country roads, sometimes the same names appear on mailbox after mailbox. In the graveyard of a nearby church are granite stones inscribed with the same names going back generations.

There's no place on earth called Schmookler Ridge. And when I went back recently to a high school reunion, it was to a different part of the country from where I was born, and from where I live now. I've lived in every time zone in the continental United States, and couldn't tell you where to find my ancestor's graves.

It has enriched my understanding to see, in my neighbors' lives, something of what it means to have so profound a sense of where home is. To see in the land around you the stuff from which the generations of your family have been made. To find in the skinny local phone book a whole page devoted to one's name - even if that name is as odd as Schmookler, like Moomaw or Tusing.

But I don't feel cheated. As in the Judy Collins line, something's lost and something's gained.

The trick for us wanderers is to convert what could be rootlessness into a wider reach of our roots. I've sometimes joked on my talk radio show out here - where my listeners and I are quite aware that in some sense I'm not one of them - that my roots really do go way back: "My ancestors," I say, "have been living on this planet for more generations than you can imagine. Way before the Mayflower!"

It's a joke, but it points to a perspective worth taking seriously. After a century with three world wars - two hot, one cold - it's worth recognizing that our fates are connected with peoples all over the world, and don't just grow out of our separate plot of ground. And with our civilization now visibly impacting the biosphere as a whole, it's important to feel the ways in which it is the planet itself that is our home.

So I think the rooted and the wandering now need one another. To understand life at the human scale, those rooted in place have a lot to offer. But for a species whose powers have grown well beyond the human scale, the broader perspective - more accessible to us wanderers - is just as necessary.

*Andrew Bard Schmookler's latest book is 'Debating the Good Society: A

Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide' (MIT Press). He writes from Broadway, Va.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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