I was reading a post by Garrison Keillor on the internet the other day. I have to admit that I envy the poetic lilt with which he can tickle the heartfelt and the sublime. His posted article amounted to a deconstruction of his “’druthers,” exploring his personal fantasy to belong to a life other than his own, one which he has only seen from afar.
Keillor belongs to a Protestant family in prairie lands of America. I belong to a Catholic family from the suburbs of St. Louis. They are different paradigms, but both offer the boundless possibility of limitation. In Keillor’s article, he concluded that we can’t change where we come from, but we might have the occasional advantage of peeking into other worldviews.
In the high-pace life-style of the post-industrial, early twentieth century, with its mobile phones and PDAs… sorry… wrong era… with its Model-Ts and telegrams, there was a strong movement to “get back to nature.” The Arcadian Myth, as it was known, invited a rejuvenation of the soul by spending time in the country, in the wilderness. The movement wasn’t too successful, as urbanization continued to thrive, but we were left with two decedents that I would like to note.
One is the suburbs. Why do you need to get out to the country for the weekend, where the air is clean and mosquitoes tranquilly buzz by, seeking to befriend you? You can have the same experience every night of the week after an hour (or more) of commuting.
The second was the country club. Private communities in which you can enjoy the country, without all the dangers of the country… and with tennis courts, polo fields, fine restaurants, and everything else that you have in the city, minus the city.
The paradigm of life introduced me to the suburbs, but not the country club, which makes stepping into a country club make me feel like a work horse at a conference held for cats. Still, a gated, private country club is where I find myself today. I am with the Punte family, in their rented house in Highland Park, outside of Buenos Aires.
Estrella, her daughter Augustina, and I went to Mass together at the chapel in Highland Park. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view my pictorial of the chapel by clicking here.
“There are some who never leave here.” Estrella tells me as we walked. My curiosity was trying to imagine what a church would look like in a private country club. “They actually raise their children here, and the children never leave these walls. They don’t know what the rest of the world looks like. They don’t know that there are poor people in the world, that there are problems. I think it is a horrible way to raise a child.”
It is an interesting pastime to criticize the life of a country club while walking through a country club. It doesn’t shock me that Estrella would have such an opinion. She is not out of place here, but also not attached to it. Her family has merely rented a house in this community for a year from friends. Highland Park is easier to reach than Estrella’s home in Luhan, a considerable distance into the country
As we continued walking to Mass, I kept thinking about Estrella’s words. If I grew up behind these walls, I would have a very different impression of what life was like. Perfectly manicured yards, and tranquil speed limits. Everything a person might want, without the hassle of needing to avoid the more unfortunate parts of life.
When we did make it to Mass, it was intriguing that today’s Gospel was about Lazarus and a rich man, who tradition tells us was named Dives. In the story, Lazarus is a beggar living outside the gates of Dives’ home. He is poor, while Dives is extremely wealthy. When Lazarus dies, he is brought to the Bosom of Abraham, while Dives receives everlasting torment in the netherworld. When Dives cries out for help, Abraham responds “Between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.'”
When I heard that story today, I began to wonder. “Who built that chasm, and why?”
It was ironic. I was at Mass, with the rich, on a day when the Gospel lifts up the poor, and describes the rich as eternally empty, wanting. Where I am sitting, there is an actual, physical chasm between the rich and the poor… and it is the wall of the country club.
Who built that chasm, and why?
My rhetorical question is not meant to start an anarchist’s rant about the inequality of wealth in the world. I actually think that there is something good about country clubs. They’re nice. Peaceful. Relaxing. It is a good habit to “get back to nature” and enjoy time with one’s family. These are good things. There is also nothing wrong with having money, so long as it was justly earned, but I think Estrella has the right idea, it is dangerous to live behind the walls and block out the rest of the world. The chasm that separates Dives from Lazarus is nothing more than a self-created reality that we ourselves build.
Some walls are physical, some are metaphorical. We build metaphorical walls freely, often without realizing what we are doing. I had to circumvent a metaphorical wall to find the enjoyment of reading the hometown simplicity of Garrison Keillor. The article was tucked away, out of view on a website that makes it easier to get up-to-date information about the custody battle of Britney’s Spears’ children rather than pacifist Buddhist monks in Myanmar who are being killed for non-violent protests.
I’ve been on various sides of a lot of walls this year. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the West Bank, Bethlehem checkpoint, and country clubs. Walls bother me, but I can take comfort at least in knowing that physical walls will fall down. The real danger, in my opinion, lies in the metaphorical walls that we can’t even see. They are the ones that keep us from knowing that Lazarus is lying outside the gate, the one’s that could potentially separate us from the Bosom of Abraham.