Living the Good Life – Wherever Home is.

Did you ever have that one time, chance experience that had an outsized impact on your life? I did. In 1973, there was a motley group of young men living in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass. There was a veteran of the U.S. War in Vietnam, a law student, an undergraduate, and an unemployed teacher – me.

I was fired from my grade school teaching job due to my opposition to the U.S. War in Vietnam. When the law student invited me to Bean Town, cheap rent, and an opportunity to live amidst 1,000s of young people, I left the Naugatuck Valley and my hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. Here was a chance to participate in a vibrant anti-war movement and to study peace, which I found out, in short order, meant studying war.

One spring day brought an opportunity to learn from a renowned historian. The undergraduate mentioned this expert was speaking at the Community Church of Boston. Off we went in mass.

Upon arriving, we learned there would be a preliminary speaker. This guy was wiry tall with a weathered, many-times wrinkled face, and a full stock of gray hair. From my perch on the world, he looked one hundred years old. I figured this was some lesser light, which we would have to tolerate before getting to the featured man of the hour. How wrong I was.

This very old, grandfather-like figure began speaking in measured tones. The facts and figures of imperialism, big business, and the military that followed, were his main focus. It was the U.S. War in Vietnam put in a very clear, economic framework. He helped make sense out of a time period that had its confusions, especially for young people. In an idiom of the day, he knocked my socks off.

To put this in perspective, Abby Hoffman, a nationally known youth leader, had told us to go home and kill your parents. You could not trust anyone over thirty years of age, you see. Abby instantly lost credibility that day.

It wasn’t until a number of years later that I picked up a used copy of “The Making of a Radical”(1972) by Scott Nearing. When I heard him speak in 1973, Nearing was on speaking tour promoting his autobiography. Of course what he was promoting was peace, especially for the end of the U.S. War in Vietnam. In the process, he was teaching us the imperialist roots of war(s). Peace, anti-imperialism, and socialism were life-long endeavors of Scott Nearing.

He had paid a high price for his humanist and anti-war positions during WWI. He was fired from two teaching positions. He eventually joined and left the Socialist Party and the U.S. Communist Party. Socialism became a life-long goal. He, along with his wife Helen, began living sustainably in the 1930s in Vermont and later in Maine. He became a guru of the back to the land movement in the 1970s.

As I mentioned, it was one of those experiences that had an outsized impact on my life. He taught so much with so little time at the podium. I remember that he wore a quite spiffy sport coat. When an audience member, clearly being cynical of Nearing’s life style, pointed this out, the response was both humble and enlightening. Scott calmly and succinctly said that he had just purchased the coat at a Good Will store down the street.

Where to live has life-style choices imbedded in them. I was among those young people who chose to move “home.” Others chose big cities, places with outsized military connected businesses, academic areas, scenes of intense civil strife, or rural life-styles. Scott Nearing gave good advice to all. “Do the best you can where you are and be kind.”

I would add two very important points. Engage the “other side.” Be they destroyers of the environment, those who beat war drums, and/or vilify victims of those who profit from it all. They don’t have to be “captains” of industry. It will be their lawyers, their scientists, and their bought politicians. They might live down the street.

Secondly, be a unifier. Bring around those who want a green environment, peace, social justice and want these wholesome objectives for all people in our beautiful, diversified country and beyond. Move beyond the “choir.” Speak, write, join, vote, talk to your neighbor, workmate, meet new people. These are all part of the “Good Life.” Scott Nearing was ninety years old when I was honored to hear his thoughts of the day.

The work of Helen and Scott Nearing continues at the Good Life Center, Harborside, Maine. Check it out at http://www.thegoodlifecenter.org