About Tribes

tribe-book-cover

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.
It’s time for that to end.
~ Sebastian Junger

The title was what drew me—a woman who didn’t find her tribe until well into her fifth decade—to Sebastian Junger’s recent book, a thoughtful, richly-researched blend of anthropology, history, and psychology. He dedicated Tribe. On Homecoming and Belonging to his brothers who returned from war, as do so many, with PTSD.

Junger was raised in a safe, affluent Connecticut community where life was predictable, where residents lived far from the highway behind high hedges, and where neighbors rarely knew each other. The few problems that arose were solved by police, fire department, or town maintenance crews. The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping—somewhat irresponsibly—for a hurricane or a tornado or something that would require us to all band together to survive. Something that would make us feel like a tribe. What I wanted wasn’t destruction and mayhem but the opposite: solidarity.

Yet he lived during a time in a place where danger rarely happened and he wondered: how, in the human experience, do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?

Following his 1986 college graduation, Junger ached to be involved with something, anything that could cause people to band together in a common cause. He decided he’d place himself into a situation where he had little to no control and set out to hitchhike across the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Minnesota. His backpack held quality camping gear and a week’s worth of food on the morning Junger was walking in Gillette, Wyoming and noticed a man wearing worn, greasy clothing approaching him.

“Where are you headed?” the man asked.

“California,” Junger said.

“How much food do you got?” the wild haired man asked.”

Junger felt wary and pondered how to reply. The man clearly didn’t have much and, while Junger was willing to share what he had, he didn’t want to be robbed, which appeared quite likely.

Junger minimized his larder and said, “Just a little cheese.”

“You can’t get to California with just a little cheese,” the man said. Their conversation continued and, in time, the man revealed he lived in a conked-out car and walked three miles each morning to a coal mine seeking fill-in work. This particular day they didn’t need him and he was walking back home.

“So, I don’t need these,” he said and gave Junger the bologna sandwich, apple, and chips from his lunchbox, food most likely prepared in a church kitchen.
He added, ”I saw you from town and … wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Junger thanked him and watched the man for several seconds as he walked back toward Gillette.

I thought about that man the rest of my trip, Junger wrote. In fact, Junger thought about him all his life. The man had been generous, yes, but more than that, he’d taken responsibility for me. He’d spotted me from town and walked half a mile out a highway to make sure I was okay. Junger reflected that family has to take us in, as Frost penned, but tribe might be defined as the people you feel compelled to share the last of your food with. For reasons I’ll never know, the man in Gillette decided to treat me like a member of his tribe.

This concise 136 page book shows how rare and precious tribes are in our present society. In showing us how their absence has affected us, Junger explores the ironic truths that for many: war feels better than peace, hardship can be a blessing, and catastrophic events can be recalled more caringly than spectacular events, such as a wedding. Each part of this book completely fascinated me, particularly the exploration of early Native American culture so rich in tribal practices. I highly recommend Tribe.

***

Sebastian Junger is the New York Times bestselling author of War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and A Death in Bellmont. Together with Tim Hetherington, he directed the documentary Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar in 2011. He is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He lives in New York City.

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About Mary Jo Doig

At the turn of the millennium, I arrived at a cross-road that brought me a splendid, if unforeseen place, almost as if I were a traveler on Robert Frost's The Road Less Traveled. I was single again, my three children were grown and building their lives, I'd experienced a health issue and was working on an improved lifestyle. I also ached to do two other things: (1) change my long human services career in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, where winter seemed to be at least seven months out of every year, and (2) move to a warmer place in the universe. My decision: did I want to continue on the path I'd been following pretty much all my life, or could I gather my then-fragile courage and start life brand new somewhere else? These were scary thoughts for a single woman in her late 50s. Five hundred miles away, though, I fell in love with a new mountain range, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, where I knew not a soul except my daughter who was attending college in the Shenandoah Valley, and I moved. I rented a tiny cabin on a mountain in the woods and lived there in solitude for two years, working in a new career by day and, when home, communing with the incredible natural beauty that surrounded me. There I also began to write my life stories, which were aching for release. I joined the Story Circle Network in early 2001, a rich place in cyberspace for women life writers, where I strengthened my written voice and began sharing my stories. I grew there in so many ways and today I'm a long-time editor for the "True Words from Real Women" section of the quarterly Journal, as well as a reader and reviewer of women's memoirs for the SCN Book Review site, another unique place in cyberspace. Then, next year, I’ll again be honored to be program chair for our Stories from the Heart national conference in Austin, TX. I have so many loves: first, my three children: my son, Chip and daughter, Polly, both in Virginia; and my youngest daughter, Susan, in Florida, and also dear family and friends. I must also include my cats Hilary (20) and Button (5). Sometimes I foster cats and kittens for the Humane Society, but Button prefers me not to. My hobbies include reading, writing, editing, cooking, gardening, quilting, knitting, biking, and simply being with the profound beauty of the mountains that embrace my small two acres in the Blue Ridge. The life stories I began writing in 2001 have grown deeper with time, re-writes, and personal growth. Now, all these years later, I believe I've sliced through the layers to reach the heart of my story, and am presently working on the final revision of my memoir, Stitching a Patchwork Life.
This entry was posted in A Wonderful Book, Book Reviews, Community, Compassion, Courage, Family, Friendship, Grace, Mystery, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to About Tribes

  1. Nicely done. You hooked me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Jo Doig says:

    I loved this book! It’s very rare that I’m not reviewing books by women authors for SCN, but about once a year this happens…. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! All best to you and your mom, Mary Jo

    Like

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