Far from the madding crowd

There’s a line in Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” that resonates with those wanting to shut off the noise and detach from the grid: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.”  

The poem is an elegy, a lament for those whose potential was stifled, untapped, or unfertilized because of circumstances of birth. The unfulfilled life is a constant across the ages, and wealth remains the primary culprit. It’s as true in 21st-century America as it was in pre-industrial England 400 years ago when Gray took pen to paper.

As a stand-alone, the line echoes today like a beckoning knell. Rather than a sad meditation about the obscure life, it’s a siren call to exit the snarled highway, get away from the din, and go AWOL from the rat race.

But is it possible? Can one shut the noise off? Are we so captivated by the machinations of corporate society with its alluring temptations that we cannot escape its clutches?

You live in Clear Creek likely for the same reason as I: You love it. I wonder if the opposite—discomfort with the city life—is true for you? I assume it is. Otherwise, why live up here?

Accordingly, do you dislike urban life somewhat or a lot? Perhaps option C: Thinking of it makes me ill.

Yep, C. Been there, done that. A pox on that bedlam and mayhem, air and noise pollution, the seemingly never-ending hyper-activity, the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.

The problem is that unlike the English of Gray’s era, before the crushing life of industrialism evolved, 21st-century Americans cannot completely escape modern madness. Technology won’t allow it. Mass transportation and communication pricked a pinhole in that notion two centuries ago with the locomotive and telegraph. Since then, it’s been a slow, inexorable death for the idyllic life.

With industrial, technological, urbanized life triumphing, war has moved from the battlefield to the mundane. We are, after all, a predatory species. Now, life’s a constant battle, even to maintain one’s sanity. Social Darwinism has become corporate culture’s ethos.

The counties’ boundaries provide no barrier to the ignoble strife. The I-70 corridor is an ever-present reminder and conduit. Through it, dollars come but also congestion and environmental degradation. Feeling safe and secure? A troubled young woman obsessed with the Columbine massacre finds her way from Florida to Echo Lake. Loving the healthy life brisk mountain air promotes? One infected visitor can ignite a measles outbreak among at-risk Clear Creekers.

And there’s more beyond. Each clever though absurdly adolescent tweet from the POTUS that tootles across the internet and airwaves serves as a painful reminder that beyond Clear Creek and Colorado, there is that other world of which we’re a part. I vote. You vote or should. It’s a responsibility of citizenship. So, one needs to stay informed.

Our collective societal frustration emanates largely from the American twist on the supremacy of the individual, a core principle of Western Civilization: The chest-thumping, tough, solitary man. It’s a fallacy, a fable. None is separate from the whole. We’re social animals. We’re interdependent. If one breathes, he/she is part of the whole. We’re all, as the great Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan once said, composed of star dust.

It can be disheartening, even maddening. Regardless, there’s no escape from the interdependency matrix. So, it’s pointless to practice denialism or bury one’s head in the sand. It doesn’t work for the ostrich. Eventually, it becomes dinner.  

The madding crowd. We created and perpetuate it. But it’s not hopeless. Life is filled with choices. We can be the masters of our fate.

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