The quote above comes from the essay American Imagination and the Civil War where Wendell Berry writes of the commodification of our land and natural resources – the soil, the trees, the grass, the air. Berry argues we can no longer afford to take these resources for granted because they are already being taken (sold, destroyed, bulldozed, pillaged).
Berry says “no place is free of the threat implied by phrases [like growth, industry, capital, etc.].”
He writes “nothing now exists that is so valuable as whatever theoretically might replace it.”
In other words, we will destroy anything and everything in the name of progress, mobility, and change.
I am grateful for Berry’s prophetic call to care for our land and resist commodification in the name of progress. His work has been a major influence on my thinking about place, land, creation, and the role of humanity in the midst of it all.
At the risk of detracting from his intentions here, reading this essay also led me to think about community and relationships. Just as heartbreak is inevitable for those who care for a plot of land, so is it inevitable for those who care about and commit to a place – a neighborhood – a community. Berry’s words can be read as a prophetic statement against the transiency of our communities and relational life together.
If you commit to a place or a neighborhood or a community, your heart will be broken. It is easier to leave than to be left, and those who commit to a place are the ones who are left over and over again.
But brace yourself for the heartache, because I believe it’s worth staying.
If you can’t commit for a lifetime, at least commit for a few years. Tell people you’re committed to your neighborhood and invite them to do the same.
Dig in your heels. Make a life for yourself in a particular place. Find, create, and root your family in a neighborhood.