The Geography Of The Good Life

Damon Linker, in an otherwise glowing review of Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, admits this hesitation about the book’s message:

If you already live in the heartland, the message is to stay. If you come from the heartland and have left, the message is to return. But what if you’re one of the tens of millions of people who can’t stay in or go home to the heartland because your home — your roots — are in the BosWash corridor of the Northeast or the urbanized areas of the West Coast? …

If he’s a consistent localist, he should tell me to put down roots and immerse myself in community where I am — or perhaps in my “hometowns” of New York City and Fairfield County, Conn. But is this even possible in a place where paying my mortgage and other bills requires that my wife and I — like my equally striving neighbors — devote ourselves to high-stress work during nearly every waking hour of our days? If I were independently wealthy, perhaps the good life that Dreher describes would be a possibility in the Philadelphia suburbs. But alas…

Dreher’s response:

[M]aybe the lesson is that the good life is not possible in the Philadelphia suburbs, or any place where in order to keep your head above water, your job has to own you and your wife, and it keeps you from building relationships. There are trade-offs in all things, and no perfect solution, geographical or otherwise. Thing is, life is short, and choices have to be made. It’s not that people living in these workaholic suburbs are bad, not at all; it’s that the culture they (we) live in defines the Good in such a way that choosing to “do the right thing” ends up hollowing out your life, leaving you vulnerable in ways you may not see until tragedy strikes.

The life Ruthie lived is a compelling alternative, the witness of which changed my heart. And like the Good Book says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Watch Rod’s Ask Anything videos here, hereherehere and here.