And so, John came back to a community that had changed, and like the spirit of the departed he had to remind himself of what it was like to be part of this small and exceptional community.Here, the distractions of the American mass culture have been removed – the IPods, the Internet, video games, Walkman, the ubiquitous television – all gone, so that the members of this community are free of distraction to talk with one another.The problem extended beyond a re-acquaintance with his parents at home – moving in with his father again, visiting his mother. He would be the first to say that he has friends in the Bay area, and he had friends the first day he arrived there – old friends whom he had once known; and some more recent friends from Montana Academy; and new friends at his new school. As he said to me a year ago, “at Montana Academy knew me – even the people who didn’t like me!” I would have said that John was talking about the experience of recognition, but he was extending it to a feeling within a community of fellow citizens, adults and adolescents.
I began to tick off on my fingers all the times that I had left a community in which I was known to take up my life in a community in which I was unknown: when I left high school to go to college in Boston; when I left Boston to come home in 1968 to a world I no longer knew; two years in England, where the experience of anomy and alienation drove me to marriage; a year in Washington DC, where I worked as an economist in a whole new business community; and then medical school in Cleveland for four years; and then resident training in New Haven; and then a first job back in San Francisco.It was a feeling of being known, which left him feeling as clear as he had ever been about who he was, and whether or not he mattered.It was an experience of being known, and therefore knowing where you were going, and where you were.For centuries, my family lived in a clan on an island off the coast of Scotland, until we were displaced by the enclosures of the 18 century and came to Nova Scotia.
A hundred years later we sailed around the horn, three of the more itchy and greedy Mc Kinnons, and settled in California.
What had John learned from this painful experience of leaving the community?