There is one family in a small town in France that has lived in the same house for 11 generations! Now when you talk permanence and historic preservation, that is a Guinness records entry.

In this country, we get excited about saving a building or other landmark that is 100 years old. We do a pretty good job. Architecturally.

But in my travels around Oregon and the Northwest, I find another heritage we are losing, and not enough attention is being paid to the loss.

In community after community, a lot of Elks, Eagles and Moose lodges are either closing their doors forever or becoming semipublic clubs trying to stay financially viable. Many Masonic halls, without that public option, are closing or, if they can, merging with nearby lodges. Many of our Grange halls sit abandoned across our state. And elsewhere. Nearly all are victims of a society that has moved on.

We are the poorer for it. Much poorer!

In our technology-filled world, with increased personal mobility, we have no time for ritual, no time for regular attendance. We’ve lost the patience to learn the deep, historic community truths of our own past from neighbors so we can share them with the next generation.

In Bend, my parents were lifelong members of Elks, Masons, Eastern Star and Amaranth. In high school, I was a DeMolay. No choice. That’s how you were brought up. That was expected. I went. I resisted. I was wrong!

Traditionally, when you walked into a lodge hall or a club room, you immediately, and without introduction, were in “community.” Whether you personally knew anyone else there was not important. Whoever was there would likely share many of your values, have about the same level of volunteer and civic participation as you and would know others of similar interests locally and in surrounding towns.

You probably knew their kids, saw these folks in church, helped build the new bleachers at the high school together, gave blood, pulled the float in the homecoming parade, shared vegetable garden excess, cut and stacked wood for someone who needed help, went fishing or hunting together, chopped and dug out stumps to clear land for the new church wing.

Now I’m not a technology hermit. I enjoy my computer, the Internet, my cell phone, DVD’s, hi-def TV and my fax.

But none of that … NONE of that … involves me in the same sense of community with my neighbor as an hour or two “at the hall” in time spent playing cards or bingo or in ritual at a Masonic meeting. My “neighbors” and my “community” now are ethereal. We share. But we share only what is on the lighted screen before us or in a brief call. We have commonality, but it is without community.

If you have to ask why both are important, don’t. The answer won’t mean anything to you. We are starting to see this same social erosion in many service clubs. Some churches, too. Volunteers aren’t as easy to come by. Attendance is often in decline. Even some work projects that used to be volunteer labor now may be hired out to others paid to do the job. Too often, electronic messaging and bulletin boards are the links; not handshakes and face-to-face conversation.

Over the years, I’ve been a Lion, Kiwanian and a Rotarian. I’ve done my share of committee work at chambers of commerce. But my offspring, all in their late 40s this year and successful in careers, have no experience in any of this. What’s more, decent persons though they may be, they don’t see any of this as being meaningful or adding anything to their lives.

An architect friend once described restoring old buildings this way: “Some are eligible. Some aren’t. Like humans, some have bones that are too brittle; some have veins or arteries of utilities not salvageable. They are lost. But the healthy ones: those we can work with. They will be the links we can save.” That’s good as far as it goes. But if saving “things” is the way we continue our heritage, we are falling short. It is not “things” that define us. It is “community.”

Seeing a Grange or lodge building in disrepair is sad. But knowing the community that was represented by those structures has disappeared is tragic. It does us no good to save real estate when what we are losing is the community of our life.

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