This last weekend, my little adopted town in East Tennessee held a annual three-day festival, a big deal. Takes a week to set up, with tents and booths and bandstands and vendors and competitions spread over many acres. Thousands of people gather, laugh, eat and drink, buy and sell, play or listen to music, compete in games. I was there both days, and Sunday afternoon sat in the beer tent drinking and talking with friends for hours as evening closed in on us. Then today, Monday, I went back to help tear it all down. In one day it was virtually gone, and by tomorrow it might never have been.
I’ve had similar experiences. I used to go to an annual music festival where we’d arrive Sunday with a couple thousand other campers and pretty much build a small city in one day. For the next week, activity was virtually nonstop: People doing what people do when we gather. Then, the following Sunday morning, we’d wake up and within three hours, it would be gone. And a few years after my father died, we sold the family home and the new owners moved the house away to clear the lot. I visited the site and sat on the foundation piers, gazing around me at the tiny area that had been our life. Forty years of all that a family is, now just bare sand where nothing grew.
It’s all too surreal. What is reality and what is not? We live our lives in dimensions so ephemeral and artificial, they only really exist in what we take away, in the memories and emotions and personal changes wrought within. It’s not hard to understand the bonding and exclusivity and protectiveness engendered in nomadic peoples like gypsies or bedouins, or plains indians who moved with bison. Their individual identities were bound up tightly within a collective identity that existed only within tribal memories and customs and histories, all of it gone once their race pulls it tents for the last time.