Neighbors are nice. The picket fences and the matching lawns and the not-so-friendly competitions at Christmas for who has the best light decorations — it is all so quaint. Pulling into your driveway after work and discussing with your conveniently outdoors neighbor which sports team is going to win the next big game or whose homemade casserole is better is so invigorating. Ah, the suburban life in all its glory. Full of regulated trash pickup times, numerous parking tickets, morbidly obese raccoons feasting on all the thrown-out casserole your neighbors gave you last week and the constant awareness of eyes watching every move you make from between the blinds of their windows. Judging you. If your husband comes home late one night from work and staggers from his car to the door, reeking of alcohol, you can bet Janice from two doors down is going to spread that juicy gossip like fire in the prairies. But what about your suburban lifestyle with your matching Tudor houses and your matching soccer mom vans doesn’t just scream the perfect life you always imagined for yourself?
Although the ice cream trucks are possibly one redeeming quality of such a life, the extreme boredom is sure to drive you crazy. Think about it — why do people always get so nosy when they start living in closely regulated residential areas with other people? First of all, difference is always startling and discomforting to someone who thinks everyone is like them. Second, suburban lifestyle is so completely devoid of any fun that there is nothing left for these poor people to do to entertain themselves but wonder what their neighbor down the street is doing with all those boxes marked “toxic waste” in the back of his garage.
What do we do to fight this extreme boredom, these terrible casseroles and the disastrous turn to gossiping found rampaging through the quiet suburbs of our dear country? Fret not, for the answer is a simple four-letter word of salvation: barn.
I remember growing up on the 152 acres of farmland my dad owned when I was little, and it still holds some of the most cherished memories I have made so far in my life. On the farm I was set loose, free to roam and explore all over the boundless land, for to a person no taller than a young lilac bush, 152 acres is indeed never-ending. My time spent at the farmhouse was truly the golden age of my childhood, a time when I was outside more than inside, and it was the most connected with nature I have ever been. I would wake up, put on some clean clothes, eat some strawberries from the garden and then promptly proceed to get myself covered in various assortments of the flora and fauna I was exploring. I believe I once got myself completely covered in mud within 15 minutes of having showered and being sent outside in a new dress — quite a remarkable record for me.
Although I think growing up with a rural lifestyle is valuable, growing up in a highly populated area also has its advantages. I believe everyone at some point must meet people who are different from them and their lifestyle, and this usually happens in more populated areas. Meeting people of different backgrounds is important for the formation of people as individuals, because it shows them the diversity inherent to everyone and the beauty and equality within that. But life in more populated areas has its drawbacks; for some people, difference can unfortunately be seen as bad. Their prejudice and ignorance can grow within them and fester, turning them into the judgmental and oppressive clones of the mock suburban lifestyle I discussed.
These people need a barn. They need to go outside, get out of their tiny controlled worlds where every little thing is regulated by rules, laws and city ordinances regarding the height of your grass, the number of branches on your trees and the number of leaves to be allowed on your sidewalks. Someone so obsessed with and so fearful of differences in other people and who lives a life full of judging and spreading gossip is not really living. I think barns are most helpful to children because there they can formulate their initial and foundational views of the world. Barns can also help older people, however, by allowing them to refocus their views of the world and how they currently fit into it.
I may have been poking fun at a stereotyped view of suburban lives that is not necessarily the reality across our country, but I can say from having moved over 10 times in my life that the feeling of judgement from your neighbors is still very much alive in our culture now. I remember thinking about what my strict and proper neighbors would think of the rusty toilet my dad had left out by the roadside after a home remodel, despite his claim that it was “artistic” because he was going to plant some flowers around it. I also remember growing up under the sun, where the trees and the wild animals did not really care at all about how I looked or acted. At the farm I was free to be whoever I wanted to be, because it was an environment that nurtured the exploration of difference. Although not everyone may be lucky enough to start their lives in a rural area highly connected to nature where they have the ability to freely grow and define themselves, it is never too late to go back to the wild woods and see what you find.