For the past year or so I have noticed what an incredibly independent person I really am. As a youngster I was consistently titled ‘loner’, as I spent many of my afternoons strolling, you guessed it, alone through my neighborhood. I would often observe the spectacle of swirling suburban life while swinging my 65-pound body in long arcs from the rope on the elementary school flagpole.
In my teens, the independence that characterized my primary school years blossomed into a full-blown addiction to video games; ‘vids’ my dad called them. I wanted my life to be uniquely mine, every virtual second unimpeded by other people. If that meant spending it alone, so be it.
In college, I fortunately discovered the emptiness of video gaming and gave up the habit. But something residual waited to be discovered — something more persistent, more subtle and unassuming and inconspicuous. There was a sense, a spirit, a sort of apparition, a lingering presence, hiding behind the disguise of video game addictions and other anti-social behaviors that characterize how (mostly) males of my generation spend their time. But I had no idea in those years that anything was behind these cultural phenomena.
It wasn’t until last year, after I emigrated from the rigors of collegeland, that I began unearthing the chassis that bore my addiction to vids.
I uncovered my first glimpses of the elusive force behind it all when I realized how staunchly I defended my projects as exclusively my own – whether it be building a workbench, keeping bees, or an activity as simple as baking. I didn’t want any help, thank you very much. I’ll knead it myself!
This offhanded and rather abrasive exclusion of friends from my life and projects was cause of no few number of relational lacerations, but I was fortunate to have friends who vocalized their discontent, having been rubbed wrong.
Because of their consistent efforts, I started sewing together a patchwork of experiences, stories of failures and successes to include others. Until at last, I could, stepping back, espy the skeleton of that wurm Individualism.
Being in Three Rivers, I’ve been immensely impressed by the overwhelming and enduring sense and spirit of cooperation, commiseration (for better of for worse), and sharing. After all, is it not volunteers who provide the human equivalents of petrol, time and energy, to keep World Fare running; ensigns who help eviscerate Huss School on work days; and community members who till earth and ensure that tomato, and not pokeweed, leaves are making use of that most coveted resource, sunshine? “The whole place seems to run on altruism and generosity, for Pete’s sake,” a visiting capitalist might spit.
It has been a pleasure to live among people sharing a common vision for the future of Small Town American life, one that includes self-sufficiency, and promotes an alternative to capitalism, a fairness to all our neighbors, a much-needed altruism and lending hand to the disenfranchised.
In spite of these wonderfully lofty goals, however, I feel I have far to come in terms of behaving in ways that align with these most righteous sentiments. I can best demonstrate this with a story from intern life.
The latest daydream in ThreeRiversland among us interns and bosses is a pay-what-you-can restaurant in the downtown district. It’s a feasible project for next year, provided we obtain a few extra dollars and (debatable) a miracle. The interns and bosses would together run the shop, raising money for the Huss School project and *cino’s publications and whatnot, while contemporaneously building a slew of new relationships with the public and providing a space for like-minded people to gather, converse, and launch their own projects.
Last week, gardeners involved in the Triple Ripple Community plot were gathered to celebrate their first year and the hundreds of pounds of produce they shared with each other and with families in need. Strolling in a little late to the potluck, I found a seat next to Julianna Sauber, who had coordinated the garden and overseen much of what was done there from groundbreaking in spring to cover-cropping in late summer.
We got to talking about what she does for a living and then on to her hopes for what she’d like to be doing next year.
‘I’d really like to establish a pay-what-you-can restaurant with an attached co-op in downtown Three Rivers,’ she explained.
Hmm, sounds familiar, I thought.
Boy! Was I at once nervous she had beat us to our idea, frustrated that we were low on funds, skeptical of her commitment to the project, and disappointed that we’ve obtained a competitor.
“I can feel your anger.” I could hear Emperor Palpatine, over my left shoulder, breathing heavily under his black robes, smiling from behind his permanent frown, his jaundiced eyes glimmering as he watched me wriggle in discontent.
Thrashing my head and neck from my strangely nerdy daydream, I collapsed out of our conversation and into introspection:
Why do I protect my projects and dreams so very defensively? Why am I so predisposed not to cooperate and share those dreams with others since, after all, the realization of those dreams would serve the common good?
I couldn’t put a finger on it, but I came around.
Individualism. Individualism, the religion.
It literally happened to the States in the last 70 years, when Eisenhower commissioned the Interstate System and the Second World War brought our busting home economies to boom, when the masses fled the connectivity implicit in the cities for the insular residences of the ‘burbs, when every man finally obtained (or dreamed of obtaining) his own ‘castle’, complete with artificial moat and blow-up floaty gators and portcullis.
And the landscape of suburbia – and all that it does to the human mind and, dare I say it, soul – I believe, contributes to the all-pervading sense of independence and dogmatic Individualism and Freedom (yes, with a capital F) that brings our collective good to the sludgepiles.
This sort of mentality manifests itself in cutthroat ferocity and ceaseless competition and monopoly in Economics, and in strain and distance in our relationships. It razes Mom and Pop’s and throws up another Applebee’s. It voids Gary, Indiana, and severs the countless friendships that were moored there for decades by miles-between-their-new-homes and inconvenience.
And here I am, both a victim and willing participant of American Individualism, a child of the American empire, a legatee of this legacy, the heir of a land built by Self. So I begin to think how very natural it is for me to be so defensive and exclusionary and independent.
But the nagging suspicion – that I am missing out on something greater by keeping my friends, allies and co-conspirators at a cubit’s distance – lingers on. And the presence of that suspicion strengthens and deepens and grows more weighty with each week here in Three Rivers. Among a whole host of well-intending friends, bosses and volunteers, who all seek the justice they themselves and all others deserve, that suspicion will no doubt bloom into a righteous contempt for the economic disparity and for all other ills that ravage this small town’s inhabitants.
Perhaps it is this righteous contempt for injustice that will slowly draw the shroud from my eyes and unify me with all those who make God’s work their own, with those who strive – alongside their allies – to refuse the lies proffered by America’s religion.

Last modified: March 4, 2020