A sense of belonging

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on the pleasures of coming home.

(Kunin) As soon as I pass that “Welcome to Vermont” sign on the highway, I feel happy to be back. It’s home. As soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac at Burlington airport, I feel a sigh of relief.

Why is it that we feel so attached to this state and feel a sense of belonging, and, recently, a sense of safety? Are we protected from the threats of a yellow or orange alert? Or is this simply wishful thinking because we think that this small rural state of Vermont is immune from the threats of the outside world?

Yes, the airport has the same security screening as other airports. It could happen here, but somehow, we think it won’t. There aren’t enough people for terrorists to have the impact that they would have in a crowded urban metropolis. Vermont, we tell ourselves, is not a likely target. It feels good to return to Vermont for other reasons.

We feel a sense of community here, a quality that is hard to find elsewhere. We know our neighbors; we have the same friends over a period of years and know where to turn for help. Because our population is small, we run into people we know wherever we go. A trip to the supermarket isn’t just for shopping, it’s a venue for conversation as we chat over our shopping carts. A walk down the main street of any Vermont town is not just a walk. It’s a social encounter.

I met someone in Pennsylvania recently at a wedding, who asked me, “Who is watching your house while you’re away?”
“No one,” I said, “My dog, yes; my house, no.” We rarely worry about crime, even though it happens. Murders take place here too. But not as often as elsewhere. Vermont has had the lowest murder rate in the nation. Perhaps it’s the winter climate that tests Vermonters, and only the most fit survive: those who really want to live here, regardless of ice or mud.

The political climate is different here; we seem to be in a different zone than the rest of the country. Except for the aftermath of civil unions, our politics has been civil and more bi-partisan than most. The nasty negative campaigns that are common in other states are rare here, and when they occur they are usually booed.

Then there is the beauty of the state. Wherever I travel, I’m struck by the strip development, the flatness of the landscape, and the sameness of it all. In Vermont, how wonderful the mountains look; my eye has grown accustomed to their contours. The landscape seems intimate; it spreads out before me on a human scale.

Yes, it may be partly an illusion that Vermont is different from the rest of the country, but we need illusions now and then. One could do worse than to believe that we live in a safe place, a state where we have a sense of belonging, and know our neighbor.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

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