Living in a city, it is easy to feel like there is no personal space. People are all around you – on the buses, in a crowded bar and within the bustling streets. But our relationship to one another is no more than bodies passing on a crowded sidewalk. To survive in a city means not letting everything or everyone in. It is a protective shield, and most of the time it is a way to get through the day. In the midst of extricating ourselves from situations we want no part of, we inevitably also shut out that which is good. And it is easy not to think about it. I certainly did not until a recent trip to Ketchum, Idaho.
Ketchum couldn’t be anymore different than my adopted home of eight years in San Francisco, and I suppose that is what drew me to it. At only three square miles, the town boasts a population of 2,689. With its deep-set mountains, billowy, tufted clouds and steel blue sky, it is hard not to get caught up in its idyllic aesthetic. So, I fell into it, and to my surprise there was a community of people there to catch me.
From my Airbnb hosts, to people I met at the Hemingway Festival to those I encountered walking around town, it seemed at every passing moment people opened up their lives to me — whether it was for an hour or an entire day. The town and its people subsumed me, and in exchange, I shared something of myself. It was true intimacy, and the kind that can only exist when we allow ourselves to be connected to one another.
After five days of dinners, walks and talks with new friends, I left Idaho feeling lifted by all the kindness bestowed upon me. And once again, I found my travels causing me to pause and evaluate life as I live it now. In San Francisco, my existence can seem like a version of Second Life where much of it happens in 140 character tweets, Snapchats and Instagram posts. Real human experiences are bypassed in favor of the convenience of technology, but those interactions are a hollowed out version of life.
Technology can be a great enabler (see: Airbnb), but we must not allow it to become a replacement for togetherness. Empathy cannot manifest itself behind a screen, and at this time, the biggest threat to the human condition is our indifference towards one another. Erosion doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow and gradual process, and we may find after sometime that we have allowed our connection to other humans to be weathered away.
The world can be a strange place, but Idaho reminded me of the beauty that also lies within it. The warmth of strangers and the free flowing of ideas and compassion can be a truly intoxicating experience….if we just let it.