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Letter to the Editor - All In The Family

(The following is a letter to the editor of my local paper, the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Walla Walla, having been recently discovered as the "next Napa" is suffering from some familial squabbling... )

After a month out of the country, I returned to find the kitchen table piled high with Union Bulletins. Most of the news lacked fresh impact, but pouring through those pages brought one thing into clearer focus than daily reading could have. Walla Walla is having a family feud.

I characterize this as a family feud because, like in a family, the arguments are nasty, drawn from a long memory, and most often indirect. We might sue a stranger, but we reserve disinheritance for family. Nothing ever cuts as close to bone as criticism from someone you’ll see at every future family “celebration.”

The old Czech joke asking if the Russians were friends or family concluded that they must be family, because you can choose your friends. I might have chosen my house, even this community, but I had no idea what neighbors I might end up with in the bargain. I chose my wife, but her family, my in-laws, came along unbidden.

Fortunately for me, I have tolerable in-laws and neighbors, made more tolerable by my own tolerance. Once I learned to interpret my neighbor’s penchant for filling up the loose spaces in my garbage can as their intent to improve the efficiency of garbage collection, I found them loving and caring and more than worthy of my loving care in response. Had I interpreted their acts as trespasses, the best we could have now would be a relationship rooted in my forgiveness of their trespasses against me.

Our weeks working in London confirmed what George Bernard Shaw once quipped. “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” The people of Walla Walla (the Wallas on one side and the completely different, wrong-headed Wallas on the other) are two perspectives separated by a common future. Whatever we decide together, we will get to live with together there.

Whatever decisions we make today might be less important than that we remember that we will have to live together with them there. The quality of those decisions might be improved if we remember that we are living here together now, too. We can always choose to interpret anything as a trespass, but when it comes to family and neighbors, we’re usually better off when we choose to maintain the relationships rather than the barricades between us.

©2006 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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