Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Because I drive a slow, fuel-efficient car, I see a lot of rear bumper stickers--and window decals.  At stoplights, I get some reading done, staring at those stickers and decals.  And yesterday, seeing a decal that apparently aligned the occupants with an athletic team at nearby Stow-Munroe Falls High School, I was reminded of a book from a few years ago called Tribes.  I can't remember who wrote it, and Amazon is no help (too many choices: tribe and tribes are very popular words in book titles, it seems).

As I recall, Tribes dealt with our human need to associate ourselves with groups of others--smaller groups (the family) radiating outward (the planet).  I don't know/remember if the author said this, but it's likely that the strength of our allegiances weakens as we move outward: We are far more devoted (most of us) to our families, say, than to Mother Earth, who, many seem to think, can take care of Herself.

We wear the clothing--the uniforms--of our tribes, too.  Remember the scene in that recent film, that masterwork 21 Jump Street.  Two young cops--Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum--go back to high school, undercover.  Their first day of school, Tatum, walking through the parking lot, quickly identifies groups of kids standing around--entirely by their clothing and appearance: nerds, Goths, jocks, whatever.

Jeffrey Hammond, writer
The rest of us aren't too hard to identify, either.  Our hair, make-up (or not), clothing, verbal and nonverbal behavior--all link us to groups, groups, for the most part, that we elect to be with.  Our tribes.  I had to laugh once at an author appearance at Hiram College on 6 October 2003.  The writer was Jeffrey Hammond, whose excellent book of essays, Ohio States, had brought him for a visit.  I was laughing because he and I and David Anderson (a wonderful Hiram English professor) were wearing the same "uniform": informal blazer, beards flecked with white (okay, mine is washed with white), glasses (not contacts), looking a little ... rumpled, etc.  Tribesmen.

We of course abandon tribes and join other ones throughout our lives.  My fierce fealty to the Hiram High School Huskies has dissipated for a number of reasons. For one, that school has been gone since the mid-1960s (consolidation, then, later, razing); for another, I graduated fifty years ago, and my allegiances have shifted--not to another high school (impossible!) but to other groups.

Over the years, I've abandoned a number of my tribes.  Schools (I've mentioned one), athletic teams (Browns, Cavs ... just not interested anymore), political parties (I was a Republican until I was nearly 20), friendships (the school bands of brothers/sisters disintegrate after a bit--though reunions remain fun), lovers (some, I confess, abandoned my wee tribe), colleagues (I'm still in touch with only a small handful of people I used to work with), clubs and organizations, churches.

It seems to me, though, that we're not comfortable if we're not with at least one tribe.  Family--religious group--team--school--whatever.  I just finished a remarkable book by journalist Monte Reel--The Last of the Tribe: The Epic Quest to Save a Lone Man in the Amazon (Simon & Schuster, 2010).  He tells the story of the efforts to make contact with a single man--a man who belonged to no tribe that anyone could identify--who was living quite contentedly, it seems, in the jungle. He built shelters, hunted with bow and arrows, observed some simple rituals that no one could really decipher.  And rejected all attempts by others to communicate with him--and when he realized his camp had been spotted, he moved elsewhere. This went on for years.  (Once, he nearly killed one of the insistent visitors with an arrow in the chest.)

Eventually, the group (scientists and aid workers) trying to contact him just plain gave up and realized that he was not like the rest of us.  He didn't need others, did not seem to want others.  The aid workers now just go out periodically to see if he's still alive.  And they leave him alone.  This human anomaly.

But for the rest of us?  We seem to need our uniforms, our teams, our families, our friends, our clubs, our colleagues, our neighborhoods, towns, states, countries ...  Without them we're not sure exactly who we are.  Unlike that lone man in the Amazon rain forest.

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