Mind Matters — Thoughts While Attending Birmingham Meeting Chicken Barbeque

As I leave the house to go to the chicken barbeque at Birmingham Meeting, I hear on NPR that foreign visitors expect the US to be a facsimile (or the real deal) of Desperate Housewives, Dancing With the Stars, Friends, etc. Forty-five years ago I traveled to Italy as a college student. Even though their son had been an exchange student in the US, the family I visited asked me if life in the US was just like the Westerns. I said no, not at all, and then thought, “but I have no idea what the West is like”—surely not like the 1880’s Westerns but certainly not like my Mid-Atlantic hometown either.

Eighteen years ago, I hosted a Hungarian high school student and later got to visit her family. Now the TV serials had morphed from Westerns to Dallas—still the wild west of sorts, maybe? And again I was asked is America like Dallas? I said, “Hardly!” Maybe some of the wealthy in Dallas act like crazy kings but the rest of us do not.

When I arrive at the chicken barbeque I am already deep in thought about America and the state of things. Memories churn. Although I am an occasional attendee at this Quaker Meeting, I am neither a member nor a volunteer.

I know many of the people here—the “waiters” and the “waitees”—and I think back to how long I have lived here and known these people, even these trees. We moved to this area twenty-six years ago. It is a beautiful place, so many rolling hills and horse farms, one cold forget we are also surrounded by four-lane highways and numerous shopping malls. When we came here, it was much quieter, but Birmingham Meeting is still a peaceful and beautiful place overlooking fields of green. (Revolutionary battles fought here, of course, tell quite a different story.)

This place and these people are not depicted on any TV sitcom or drama. What sitcom deals with donations for removal of landmines in foreign countries such as the little peace table here does?

This is the US for foreign visitors to see: these pockets of life that belie the TV norm. And this bucolic piece of Chester County is hardly the whole story. I grew up in a small mill town in New Jersey across the river from Philadelphia. My store front row house did not have vistas of trees and pasture. And therefore, no sunrises or sunsets to speak of.

It was not until I left home and eventually lived on a small plot of land in Western Pennsylvania, and then here, that I could find landscapes of beauty .There is a quote I like to savor: “The beauty that will save the world is the love that shares the pain.” No, the beauty and the pain of American life is not to be confused with TV renditions of our so-called selves.