The other day I got up before dawn and headed back down to the NYC Metro area to meet my son’s flight back from Geneva. As I waited for him to emerge from the International Arrivals gate I noticed that at least 75% if not more of those who came around the corner were immersed in their I-gadgets, neither looking up to meet the eyes of their friends and families who awaited them, nor engaging with their fellow travelers. Each one was focused on six square inches of glowing screen and two dozen buttons, furiously thumbing in whatever it was that mattered more than the world they moved through.
When my son finally came around the corner he struck me as being something apart from the others- he was smiling broadly, engaged in a conversation with another backpack toting young man, both of them tall, physically fit and aware of their surroundings. His eyes met mine almost instantly despite the large crowd and we quickly found our way out of the airport and headed away from the dying city of Newark towards home.
I listened to his stories about his travel through the mountains of Europe and his observations about the differences between the people he met there and the ones he knew in America. Certain things stood out to him- the difference in body size (he rarely saw a fat European) the squalor and decay evident in the urban areas of Barcelona and the accompanying discord and anxiety among the population versus the easy going and harmonious relations he experienced in the alpine villages. He said that the one thing that had struck him was the absence of entitlement- his words, not mine- of the people he met. How working for a living was woven into the warp and woof of their lives, the communal water tap in the center of each village, the gardens and window boxes full of vegetables and flowers while the snow was still on the slopes, the well tended flocks of sheep and goats, the quietly grazing herds of cattle, each with a wide leather collar and ancient bronze bell and all of it watched over by smiling people tied to the land.
We gave him a couple of days to rest and catch up with his friends, but on Monday he was back at it with me, working in a comfortable harmony on the various tasks at hand, joking and exchanging comments on occasion, but most often silently immersed in our own thoughts. He has shared with me how much he enjoyed his adventure, but how it only convinced him further how much he belonged here, how much he had missed the smell of the air, the particular green of our forest, the soft roll of our ancient mountain as opposed to the violent glacial crags of the Pyrenees. We sent our oldest son off right at the end of his childhood and he came back fully a man, capable of feats most people will only dream about, ready to do the kind of work that virtually no one is capable of in this day and age. Most of his friends are headed off to college, to begin a life with some hope of future happiness, but who will in short order find themselves indebted, disengaged from the world outside of their laptop or flatscreen, suffering from one disorder or another, alienated, frustrated, anxious in a world that is ever more unnatural and headed in the wrong direction.
Today we will work together again and eat the food that came off of our land and hopefully learn something new from each other. I know that’s there’s nothing much any of us can do as individuals to change the course of history or alter the path that we as a nation are collectively making our way along. Sometimes it’s frustrating to see the wanton disregard for everything we hold dear becoming the defacto policies of our elites, but that is the curse of being borne to a time and a place. Certain things are inescapable, but in so many other ways we have far more freedom than we imagine. We can be effective providers for ourselves and our families, we can choose to be producers rather than consumers, to look out into the faces of the crowd rather than gaze into the abyss of cell phone screen and to make each day something worthy of the hours we have spent on it.
I wake up in the morning stiff enough to have to limp into the bathroom, but then I brush my teeth, wash my face and find that somewhere deep inside I am more limber than I thought I was. I still check out the world through a feeble Internet connection much in the same way I look out of the window to check the weather each day, but neither deter me from going out and doing whatever needs to be done no matter how poor the outlook might be. And now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of years spent raising the young man I am proud to call my son, he provides a renewed energy and excitement, new ways of looking at the world and solutions for old problems that have been out of my reach. I don’t know if he will change the world, but I know he will improve a part of it and that keeps me going no matter how bad things might seem.