The MOF&G Online
Letters to the Editor
Helen Nearing Found Peopleís Special Spark
To the Editor:
On this, the 100th anniversary year of Helen Nearingís birth, my husband and I want to share with you, fellow MOFGA members and Fairgoers, some thoughts about Helen and Scott Nearing. We came separately to Maine in the 1970s, each having heard about the Nearings. Later, Nancy became friends with Helen; later still Doug met her through Nancy; and then in 1994 she presided at our marriage. She was very special to both of us.
We loved Helen and we are also acutely aware of the many individuals who benefited directly from her largess, as well as the countless others who were and are still inspired by Helen and Scottís example to work toward a more equitable sharing of the earthís resources for all of humanity and to create their own good lives--in Maine and elsewhere.
I had a jarring experience recently, when, during a peaceful evening drive, I turned on the radio and heard Helen and Scott ridiculed, based on information gleaned from a review of a book. That self-published book (Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life by Jean Hay Bright) argues, in part, that since the Nearings happened to inherit the financial wherewithal to purchase land and vehicles and since Scott accepted social security income, they therefore did not actually practice what they preached, calling into question their homesteading accomplishments and messages of economic equality and simple living.
Emmet Mearaís review in the Bangor Daily News last November alerted me to this treatise, and it has been followed by other reviewers who, to my way of thinking, seem to accept a premise of the authorís, which is that we were all in some way owed not only a complete accounting of the Nearingsí finances, but also other details about their lives as well.
This is a point of view with which I disagree, for I believe we are each entitled to the dignity of privacy, including financial privacy. We can only hope that our family members, acquaintances and assistants do not make us the subjects of their books and memoirs.
I have no quarrel with the authorís right to publish a memoir of her own homesteading experience, but this book is more than that. Her choice of title and the bookís content trade on the celebrity of her former neighbors, people of some renown in the homesteading and organic agriculture movements, and she serves up revelations about their lives and opens for public viewing some excruciatingly painful events.
From its opening pages--devoted to the sad suicide of a Cape Rosier neighbor, to the tragic drowning of a young child, and the deaths in turn of Scott and then Helen--death is an underlying theme of this book. We are privy to private moments and details about other peopleís lives that I would think are not our business to know--or hers to tell.
Whether this was to ensure an audience for her story or because of an amazing lack of sensitivity is not clear, but in my opinion it represents a major breach of good taste, judgement and decency. I cannot speak for what propels the author in her mission to enlighten us about (in her words) "how the Nearings really lived and died," but I can speak about the Helen Nearing I knew and loved.
Helen was a positive and optimistic soul who didnít dwell on the sad and hard aspects of life or peopleís unkindness and shortcomings. She maintained a boundary of privacy and decorum around her closest relationships and could be counted on to keep a confidence. She was generous and tireless in her devotion to furthering the common good, as people and organizations throughout the world can attest, and many (including Ms. Bright) benefited from her help and encouragement.
She greeted each day with joy and fresh energy, tending her garden, presiding over her wood stove and her household, graciously welcoming her visitors, keeping herself informed about the world, writing and answering her letters. She was brilliant, talented, intellectual, fun and even girlish, principled, loving and a hard worker. And, be assured, Helen was frugal, careful and disciplined--she truly did live simply that others may live.
She was also fallible, thank goodness, with inconsistencies just like the rest of us. But unlike most of us, Helen had the ability to find that special spark in each person who came her way, to celebrate it, and to send each person on happier, stronger, better and more whole for having been with her. Perhaps that was Helenís greatest gift to the future. I know it was her greatest gift to my husband and to me.
Nearing Were Devoted to the Common Good
To the Editor:
I revere Helen and Scott Nearing. They gave me strength, through their writings, which I was first aware of in my late teens, to pursue my dream of a good life. Helen and Scott lived the good life and practiced what they preached. They were leaders, living their lives with integrity; they worked hard, thoughtfully and purposefully. The life they lived treasured the Earth and people, and their prose encouraged others to do so.
Through their wonderful lives, several generations were empowered to follow their dreams. That the Nearings had "money in the bank" in no way diminishes my reverence for them. In fact, I find it all the more remarkable that these two would be passionate and constant in their daily living. Rarely do people of financial means devote themselves to the common good and lead earth-friendly lives--rather, the norm is the pursuit of capitalistic trappings and self gratification.
This amazing coupleís unswerving and dedicated contributions to society are unique and timely. Their gift to me was the realization that there is a good life where earth and soul are cherished and nourished. Living the good life lives on in my dreams and in my days. Thank you, Helen and Scott, for all you gave and for all you were.
Douglas N. Johnson
If your life was touched by a visit with the Nearings or you were influenced by them in some way, we would be grateful to hear from you. We promise that we will not publish your "good life story," and if you like, you can send it in a separate, sealed envelope, which we will not open. All stories will find a home with Helenís papers at The Thoreau Institute in Massachusetts, where they will become a testament to the Nearings and to the many they inspired. And pass it on--reach out and help someone in his or her quest for a good life. We are: Caudle-Johnsons, 42 Pearl St., Camden ME 04843.
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