Why We Need Small Towns
I said, "Well," for now I was ashamed, "I had this feeling maybe I had been called."
"And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time."
"And how long is that going to take?"
"I don't know. As long as you live, perhaps."
"That could be a long time."
"I will tell you a further mystery," he said. "It may take longer."
Over the next 300 pages, Berry tells the story of how Jayber lives his questions out. In time, Jayber arrives at peace. The novel ends with a beatific vision in which Jayber says that he "was covered all over with light." His orphaned soul finally is restored.
But living out the answers took time—52 years, to be exact. Ardmire spoke with Jayber in 1935. The story ends in 1987. When I realize this, the devastating question hits me: Do we American Christians create communities where answers can be lived out, decade by decade, over a lifetime?
No, we don't all have to move to small towns to find these communities. But small towns make that sort of community more plausible. Big cities run on transience and mobility. They are filled with rental housing and freeways designed to make movement over large areas easier. And they are supported by an economy that assumes people will switch careers and homes several times in the course of their lives.
In such a world, the memory of small-town life is an antidote to the frantic pace that defines the city and deadens the soul. But with small towns withering away, what will protect us from the hectic, hypermobile life of the city? In a world where so many of us are like Jayber—haunted by the pains inflicted upon us as well as our own sinful heart—where will we go to be healed and restored? How many of us will be given the time to slowly, quietly live out the answers to the most important questions?
Jake Meador is a writer and editor from Lincoln, Nebraska. He writes for Mere Orthodoxy and Fare Forward.