I had a conversation with a friend recently about the community mindedness of pioneer women. They were often miles from the nearest neighbor, yet they forged a sense of community that is so often lacking today. Women did their baking and sewing together, delivered each others babies and watched each others children. Harvest was done together and even turned into a social occasion. Neighbors provided support during crisis. The only sign I see of commitment on this level in this century is among the Amish, where even fire insurance is unnecessary. If someone’s barn burns down, the community pulls together and builds a new one. Pioneer women couldn’t run to the store when they ran out of supplies. Help was given knowing that the same support could be depended on from others in times of need.
I don’t know when this sense of community died. Maybe it was when one too many people abused it, making the generous afraid of being overwhelmed. Perhaps it was our overdependence on technology. We post our troubles on Facebook and receive sympathetic comments instead of the helping hand we really need. Worse still, have we allowed our lives to become so busy and egocentric that we no longer make the time to interact with others?
I expected more from Christians today, hoping that we could success in this area where the culture around us has failed, but at least in the United States, we are little better. We fear being judged if we ask for help or offending others if we offer it. Those of us who live on little are embarrassed to admit it and yet shy away from offering our budgeting skills to those struggling. Our society has cultivated an ideal of independence and an anathema of dependence. Worse yet, the philosophy of “love thy neighbor”, for many, has been replaced by “Isn’t that the government’s job?”
So can today’s women reintegrate many of those wonderful qualities found in the pioneer woman? I’m not suggesting we give up shopping at grocery stores and start having our babies at home (unless of course you want to.) But perhaps there is still room for that kind of community even in the 21st century. Cooking at home goes in and out of style, but teaching those skills is not always something every child is taught anymore. Even basic sewing skills have become a lost art. When I told my friends I had begun baking my own bread at home, they were shocked and begged me to teach them. Why not? Our sharing of skills doesn’t have to limited to the home. We can share our love of photography, Pilates, gardening or computers. As women we can learn to depend on each other again. Those who return to the workforce pay a high price for childcare when they might prefer that their children spend the day with a friend. Many couples of lower income rarely go out because they can’t afford a babysitter. Trading off babysitting fulfills this need. We all have something to offer and we each need something in return, even if it is only our time or our listening ears.