When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, What is it?
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
Coming down from the mountains as a kid in my dad’s truck some years back, my family noticed a neighbor starting to cover his beautiful wooden farm fence in black paint. It seemed like a great tragedy to us initially, but after the job was complete not only did the locals get used to it but they even started to think it looked fairly pleasant. In the intermediate time, however, it was virtually the only subject of conversation along Highway 11.
Anyone outside of the general Pumpkintown area could listen to our dinner-table talk (whether it was about the fence, local church events, or the new stoplight), immediately respond, “Who cares?” and be completely justified. Conversation among neighbors centering solely on immediate matters excludes those who live elsewhere. And yet, there’s something more human about all this that keeps us grounded in where we are and what ought to concern us presently.
Social media and instant access to what the internet says is important to think about seems to have infiltrated the back porch, supper table, or almost any personal social setting. We find ourselves discussing the lives of celebrities or policy wars in the higher courts, or commenting on what is utterly outside our control and much farther away from us than our iPhones would suggest. We then lose a sense of the intimacy that ought to link us with our immediate community.
In his poem A Time to Talk, Robert Frost touches on this point. While the poem ultimately pushes the priority of human interaction over and against the “more productive” work that could be done, it’s safe to assume that the talk that halted the farmer and his friend is probably not focusing on foreign third parties unaware of their existence. If they’re going to set down the horse and hoe, the chat will most appropriately focus on each other, their work, family, day’s experience, etc.
Allowing the national news front to supersaturate our conversations diminishes us as individuals to form meaningful relationships with each other. If, in talking with a friend, I constantly direct the subject to the trending topics on Facebook, I may never hear his thoughts on what’s important in his life. In turn, he’ll never know what’s important to me. The constant stimulation of websites’ newsfeeds leaves us stalled in a sort of relationship limbo, with no means of progress to be found.
Though we still will the good for all, in the “order of charity” we love those closer to us more (and in more ways) than those we don’t know. This organic inequality places a demand on our conversations with those closer to us. Of course, every friendly chat isn’t going to be intellectually stimulating or centered on the deepest spiritual truths, which is to be expected. It can even be more meaningful simply to listen and invest in what’s going on in the lives of those whom God has placed with us.
To share what’s important on the local plane evokes a sense of humanity that simply isn’t experienced in the world of Wi-Fi. If something’s important to a friend, it’ll be important to me. If charity is to grow and draw us closer to God together, then from time to time it’s necessary to pause from the world at large, sit a spell, and have a chat.