My daughter and I came home from Publix the other day with a trunk full of groceries. When we dumped the bags on the kitchen counter we realized we had forgotten the basil and almond paste. Whole Foods is a lot closer to our house than Publix, so we shot over there to pick up those couple things. I’m always impressed by Whole Foods’ produce section but stunned by their prices so I wasn’t surprised when their basil was not stacked with their other cut herbs but sold as a living, breathing, hydroponically-grown plant in a see-through pouch. My daughter looked at it askance: “I don’t trust a plant that doesn’t grow in dirt,” she said. “The roots all exposed like that, it’s just not right.”
Roots growing without dirt in a plastic bag is quite a visual, and I’m nothing if not a visual thinker, so I was still picturing those naked roots early the next morning while I was struggling to keep up with my running group. At some point the conversation turned to an article in The Miami Herald a woman wrote about her hometown. “How come these kinds of articles always list all the negative aspects of the city and then end with ‘…but I like Miami anyway because it’s my home and my roots are here’?” someone asked.
A few sweaty miles later, Mike and I were talking about home prices, changing demographics, and the economy. For different reasons, we both said that we would stay in Miami for the long term. Both of us love the city, the environment, and the people. And we both agreed that cutting our roots, that is, not having our enormous group of friends, family, contacts, and clients nearby, would make it difficult for us to live anywhere else.
Perhaps we enjoy all this great support because we were both lucky enough to be born and raised here, a unique position in a city (and state) where 10% of the population moves in and out every year and most people who live here came from somewhere else.
On the other hand, both Mike and I are first or second generation Americans and none of our parents grew up down here so how deeply can our roots really be planted in the South Florida soil? Granted, neither one of us can walk through a restaurant without knowing at least quarter of the diners and attending a Chamber of Commerce meeting is like an old home week reunion of friends and neighbors, but is that where true connection and loyalty comes from?
Funny thing is my friendship with Mike perfectly illustrates this strange creation of roots, relationships, and ties we’re discussing. Although Mike and I are the same age and I’ve known of him for years and have shaken his hand at many community events, I didn’t really know him well until he joined our running group about a year ago. (Interestingly enough, Mike joined us after reading one of these online blog posts.) Before Mike and I became buddies, I already knew his father and our overlapping circle of friends was quite extensive. But our relationship really developed across all the early morning miles we’ve put in together and our friendship strengthened when Mike attended my father’s memorial service and then again a month or two later when I attended his dad’s funeral.
Is that what building relationships takes? Shared physical and emotional experience and mutual attendance? If so, then what’s all this buzz I hear about online communities and Internet neighborhoods? A few Sundays ago in The New York Times article about online Scrabble players, novelist Meg Wolitzer expressed a similar point. “Much has been written about the soullessness of today’s ‘Village of the Damned’ isolates who sit at their laptops round the clock, playing various online games alone or with strangers. But when I log on to the Internet Scrabble Club, via isc.ro, I want not just the no-nonsense feel of playing Scrabble with someone I can’t see and will never meet, but also, strangely, the connection.”
Does playing anonymous digital board games with people around the world (in the author’s case, Ghana) really make a connection? I don’t know. But I do know that if you’re reading this blog post, and do so regularly, it is because we have connected along the way… and planted some roots of our own. And that makes writing this post — and hopefully reading it — all the more valuable and rewarding. Because whether we’re fertilizing our roots over Facebook, blogs, Internet Scrabble sites, backyard fences or sunrise jogs, it’s our relationships that make our lives worth living.