Posted October 12, 2012 02:09 pm - Updated October 12, 2012 02:13 pm

Our Tribes

   Imagine sitting down for a lovely dinner with friends and plunging right into the presidential elections. "No politics at the dinner table!" That's excellent advice unless everyone shares the same ideology, in which case it’s fun. Endorphins rise. Everyone is animated. They interrupt and talk over each other. They belong to the same tribe.

   Wikipedia says "...tribes organize links between families (including clans and lineages), provide them with a social and ideological basis for solidarity that is in some way more limited than that of an ethnic group or of a nation.”

   The first time I heard "tribe" used outside the context of Native Americans was on September 10, 2010 at an Evening at Egan forum in the University of Alaska Southeast library. Renowned author Terry Tempest Williams was there to talk about her latest book, "Finding Beauty in a Broken World”.

   My friend Darcy and I walked into the library and were amazed that it was already full. People stood shoulder to shoulder along the upper floor balcony railing overlooking the lecture hall. As we scanned for two seats together, we recognized people moving through the crowd in front of us, and nodded to friends who were already settled in their chairs. Dozens of people leaned against the wall. Darcy glanced at me and said, "Barb, this is our tribe." In one short sentence, she summed up how I felt.

   It took time for everyone to settle. Quite a few people clutched worn copies of Williams' book "Refuge," or new copies of "Finding Beauty in a Broken World", the blank title pages ready for her autograph. I was a bit of a blank slate. I hadn't read Williams' work, but Darcy admired her and we were both looking forward to the evening.

   After John Pugh’s introduction and a long ovation, Williams walked to the podium. She begged our forgiveness, but said she couldn’t talk about her book. She had just returned from the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana coast, and was devastated by what she had seen. Williams said she needed to talk about the dead dolphins, the oil still on the beaches, the fish carcasses littering the shore, the oil sheen surrounding the Macondo well, and the broken hearts of the people.

   It was hard to hear. We bore witness to the raw emotion she felt. It was an experience shared by all the hearts in that library. I will never forget it. If that’s what it feels like to be in a tribe, then that was my tribe.

   One thing I know with total certainty is when I am not with my tribe. Years ago, while vacationing in Arizona, my husband Doug spotted a huge sign on the roof of the Pima County Fairgrounds exhibition hall advertising a gun show and swap meet. He's not a gun guy, but he is a collector. He asked if I minded checking it out. I conceded that he had wandered through the art galleries and shops in Tubac with me earlier, so we could call it even. He took the next off ramp.

   I felt my blood pressure rise as soon as the car left I-19, but, hey, marriage is a compromise. We walked into the cavernous hall together. The first person I saw was Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. He sat behind his table along the wall on the left side ready to talk to voters on the Right. The National Rifle Association occupied the real estate in front of us.

   Doug wandered up the first aisle, and I searched the terrain for a refuge. Lo and behold, I spotted a watering hole in the shape of Coke machine way back in the far corner. Eyes locked on that red and white icon, I skirted the men in various earth-toned camouflage. Oblivious to me, they browsed tables covered with intricately carved hunting knives. I wondered if a hunter would actually get close enough to an animal to use those, or they went above the mantle, but I didn’t hang around to ask.

   Hundreds of grey and black guns of every size and shape were neatly lined up in some kind of hierarchical formation I didn't understand. Vendors, as attentive as any Nordstrom “Associate", hovered nearby.

   I caught Doug’s eye and signaled that I was headed for the Coke machine in the far corner. The host tribe had graciously provided an oasis with date palms. My refuge not only had the soda machine, lo and behold, it also had three round tables with chairs. A rumpled copy of the Arizona Daily left on the table had my name all over it. I got a cold Coke, settled down, and opened the paper.

   Marriage strengthened. Resolve tested. Tribal identity reinforced.





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