Please close your eyes for a moment and use that innate tool called the imagination. Take away your current surroundings, and follow me to North America, 300 years ago.
Please close your eyes for a moment and use that innate tool called the imagination. Take away your current surroundings, and follow me to North America, 300 years ago: 1700 AD. Whether in the modern USA or Canada, you were part of British North America. It’s winter, and it’s cold. The population of all the British colonies is 275 000, with Boston and New York as the biggest, with populations of 7000 and 5000 respectively. In a year, the university of Yale would be founded. In two years, England would go to war with France, fearing that it would unite with Spain. That war carries over to the colonies, who fight the French on North American land. A decade later, North Carolinians would massacre Native Americans in another war that would last two years. People fought face to face those days.
You, however, are not living in the city. You are living, as many did, in a rural environment, in a barn house. You are excited that for the first time your family has a large parcel of land, compared to the tiny properties back home in Europe. You have six kids, all of whom help with the farming and raising of the cattle, except for the youngest two, because they are too young.
One of your greatest fears is someone getting ill. Medical care is so limited and so difficult to obtain. If your child is fevering, or worse, the father of the household, it could be fatal. Calling in the doctor means walking miles in the snow or taking the carriage, and even if the doctor comes, he’s probably limited with what he can do. If you lose the father, you lose your whole livelihood and income.
School is a little barn down the road. The schoolmaster has a tiny class, and thankfully the woman teaching them is someone that the community trusts as a morally upright person capable of teaching. If you find that she is not, it is not hard to get things changed.
At night, you may fall asleep hearing the sounds of wolves. Here and there your husband may have to run out with his rifle to make sure none of them attack the horses in the stables. Deer, moose and coyote are all living in your vicinity. You don’t have to worry that much about them, but you want to make sure that your children are not going too deep into the forest near night fall. Outdoors is where they find their fun. They chase each other, break each others’ limbs, build treehouses and laugh themselves to exhaustion. Sometimes the neighbour’s children will join yours, and you know that they will need an extra bath at night.
Speaking of baths, baths are hard work. They require going to the well, pumping water, then heating it over the fire. The fire itself needs work. Lots of labour is involved in making sure there’s a steady supply of firewood. After heating the water and then letting it cool to a temperature appropriate for the children, they can have their bath. Keeping them warm after jumping out of the water was imperative, as they could get sick. Like we discussed, sickness is scary.
As your children grow, they will start to train in various trades. Some will be coppersmiths, some will be tradesmen. Some will join the life of the fur trade folk, but you pray your child will not do that, it usually results in poor health or death, and you will see your child next to never. You also pray that war won’t break out that might demand your son from you. It would be rare for a child to go to university, but that was not frowned upon all that much. Not everyone was a philosopher and there was plenty of room in town for ‘em regular folk.
One of the things you most look forward to were social events at someone’s home. Sitting as families, maybe a little bit of dancing and fiddling, a good ale and a delicious home-cooked meal. These were the times when euphoria was upon all, they were also the places where the young men and women began to fancy one another. What could you do? It’s a part of life.
There was no question about religion to warrant a special piece. Religion was woven into the fabric. Sure, there were fights between the Church of Rome and the Church of England, but in the end if you wanted to do well you knew you ought to please the Lord in word and deed, that’s what you learned and what you taught the children.
You didn’t live a long life, but the life you lived had meaning because you felt you had so much. You rejoiced in the small experiences, the outdoors, the children, the family and the community. Nature was to be feared and adored, as was God. And God you thanked, in festivities and joy. On a political level, this happened when the Natives joined the Pilgrims to give thanks to God, on a local level, it happened in the communities, whenever they held hands together, prayed grace and had a meal. On a Liturgical level, it’s whenever the community gives thanks, and share in the Lord’s Body.
Before you open your eyes. Please, compare the life of then to the life you live today. Think of what their concerns are and what concerns we have today. Ask yourself whether or not your life is in focus, and you can appreciate the things that they did, and give thanks with simplicity without wanting more.
Let’s be thankful that our kids have the best health in centuries and can access care. Let’s be thankful for housing and education. Let’s give thanks for time spent with family, with friends, and with the community. Let’s be thankful for baths and showers, and the ability to move. Let’s be thankful for the line dancing and the firewood. Whatever we lack, let us create together in His Name. These people of old were happy because they had one another, they had community, they lived in love and contentment and lived each day as it was. They appreciated nature without fancy cars. They had their share of challenges but they cared more about how to live every moment as it came, not the future before it happens.
God didn’t change in 300 years. Thank God for that.