One of the main qualities that remains majorly absent in millennials (myself) is resiliency. The ability to go toe to toe with life and deal with the hardships thrown in your face. The choice to fight and not to cower. The choice of the harder path, the choice of values, the choice of love. I think it is interesting to compare myself and those around me with cultures found in other times in history. Not necessarily ancient Mesopotamian culture, but to just think of American people 80 years ago. That’s one lifetime. Wow.
Compare us with the farmers in the Great American Plains in the 1930’s. Fighting the dust bowl. I’ve been digging into this part of history because I find it fascinating. These people were strong people. They had grit. Their entire livelihoods crashed upon their heads day after day, their family members suffered from dust pneumonia, their children went hungry… yet, they chose to stay. They chose to fight for what they loved. The land their family owned and farmed for decades and decades. The land that provided them a place to view the world from and make sense of life. No matter the dust, the efforts of the banks to kick the tenant farmers off, or the end not in sight, these people rooted themselves in hope and fought the good fight. This is so ridiculously foreign to us. However, this is how true culture is made. These people voluntarily accepted reality. They willingly participated in the drama of life. This results in a particular way of life. People that value land and family. People that fight against injustice. Culture blossoms. Books are written. Music is played. Children grow up. The story of the dust bowl, the experience of living through the dust bowl, is embedded in it all. This poetic quote reveals the role of music, particularly Woody Guthrie, during this time.
“There was an alchemy in this noise and exultation: spellbound in the sorcery of these songs, I became we, me became us. For there was an empowerment in this empathy, a catharsis in this energy, as if each man gathered the bare bones of his personal circumstances and was banging a rhythm out of them, a rhythm that sang with the ferocious energy of survival, a heartbeat that said they weren’t beat. Because singing was breathing and dancing was moving, and breathing and moving were for the quick and not the dead. And suddenly, the air was full of wet — damp with breath and sweat. Face were dripping, arms were flailing, kids were kissing, Pas were cussing, and Mas were laughing, and all were swaying in a way that had something to do with the homebrew, something to do with the music, with the way things are, with the way they should be, and the way they have always been.”
― Nick Hayes, Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads
Real culture develops through real people. The music communicated their human experience and drew them closer together. They were in it together because they saw the good of the land, of their family, and of their way of life, so they fought for it. Here is a small bit from a letter written by someone currently experiencing the devastation of the dust bowl in 1935 and telling a friend about it.
Evelyn. Oklahoma. June 30th, 1935
“Naturally you will wonder why we stay where conditions are so extremely disheartening. Why not pick up and leave as so many others have done? It is a fair question, but a hard one to answer.
Recently I talked with a young university graduate of very superior attainments. He took the ground that in such a ease sentiment could and should be disregarded. He may be right. Yet I cannot act or feel or think as if the experiences of our twenty-seven years of life together had never been. And they are all bound up with the little corner to which we have given our continued and united efforts. To leave voluntarily to break all these closely knit ties for the sake of a possibly greater comfort elsewhere —seems like defaulting on our task. We may have to leave. We can’t hold out indefinitely without some return from the land, some source of income, however small. But I think I can never go willingly or without pain that as yet seems unendurable…
We long for the garden and little chickens, the trees and birds and wild flowers of the years gone by. Perhaps if we do our part these good things may return some day, for others if not for ourselves.”
Lastly, I’d like to leave with this quote from John Steinback’s novel The Grapes of Wrath, and the Mumford and Sons song Dust Bowl Dance which was inspired by this novel.
“And this you can know- fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath