A few months ago, one of our fellow Common Tablers suggested a great idea: a series of ‘barn-raisings’, where a particular family would host a whole crew of other people who would do a bunch of work around their home. So instead of everyone working at their own place every weekend, we’d all descend on one place and work together. Suffice to say, it has been a huge success.
Which raises a persistent question, at least in my head: why do we do this?
Clearly, there is some altruism, for we are each giving away a ton of work. At the same time, there is some egoism, for in giving we expect to take our turn receiving. It is also a chance for some of us to share our expertise of various kinds: gardening, painting, demolition, arboreal arts, carpentry, cleaning, holding tiny babies, wrangling the older kids, and the loading of trucks, tetris-style. We can try new things, practice skills, and share tips. Too, it is an ongoing effort at balancing the scales of generosity– of helping people who have helped us.
Or maybe there are deeper forces at work. Perhaps we’re trying to combat some deep, existential sense of cosmic loneliness, or maybe we’re simply yearning for a time when neighbors helped neighbors because that’s what neighbors do.
So why bother? Why not save time, and hire professionals? Or save all of the trouble, and just do the stuff ourselves? Why did we start these projects, and why do we continue to do them and enjoy them, even if they are not terribly productive?
I was thinking about all of this on Sunday when I was walking away from the ‘work house’ to go a block to the ‘kid house’ to grab The Girl for her nap. I was walking with my head hung a little low from the guilt of leaving my girl with a pack of other kids and a few generous adults to oversee and referee the chaos– I was going with an apology in my pocket for everyone.
And I rounded the corner to see a scene of unmitigated… joy. Kids sharing, playing, and laughing with sprinklers and pools, hoses and toys. With grownups happily offering oversight, management, and a hearty greeting. And absolutely everyone properly hydrated and with a full belly of healthy, fresh food. Such was the level of mirth that I suddenly felt guilty for taking my Girl away from her friends (both young and grownup).
What struck me was that, for young and old, this is about friendship. Hanging out. Eating together. Sharing and giving, and the equally difficult task of receiving without assuming some kind of indebtedness. It’s about offering our gifts and abilities, but also our inabilities and mistakes. It’s about disagreeing and debating, whether about the project or politics or theology, and finally realizing that we’re at our best when we move beyond our differences. And most of all, it’s about spending enough time soaking in each other’s presence that we can catch up on the new stuff and retell some of the old familiar stories.
So yes, I suppose that deep down I’m trying to repay some debt to people who have carried us (and who continue to help us) through some of our darkest hours. But more than that, I do this because I like to do it, and because I like to do stuff with people who like to do stuff together.