Something’s happening

Published 8:26 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I have just finished reading one of my favorite books again.

Every three or four years, I read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It’s like that movie that you have in your collection that you keep going back to every time you can’t find a movie that interests you.

The Grapes of Wrath is the story of the Depression migration of hundreds of thousands of Americans from the middle of the country (Oklahoma) to the west (California). The ecological tragedy known as the Dust Bowl was the cause and the upheaval of all these people from their homes in the midsection of our great country was just one angle of those years that affected the psyche of two generations.

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Although the novel touches on many aspects of this grim period in our history, the story is told through the struggles of one family by the last name of Joad. And even within the family, two members, Tom and Ma are chosen for the greatest elaboration.

Tom is a sensitive man who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s a thinking man, always trying to figure out what’s going on. His quick temper gets him into serious trouble, even causing him to defend himself to the point of committing manslaughter. His sensitivity, however, helps him to see an undercurrent in this mass migration of uprooted people.

All through the book, he broods and tells Ma, “Sumpin’s hap’nin’ in the lan’.” By that he means that there are changes, within the culture and country that are larger and more profound than a simple move from one state to another. There was an undercurrent that he could not quite put his finger on.

Every time I would read those words, “Sumpin’s hap’nin’,” I couldn’t help but think of the enormous changes that I see in our country in this day and time. Maybe it has always been like that, thing’s a-changing, but it sure does feel like the words from that Buffalo Springfield song of the sixties.

“Something’s happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

It’s almost like an unraveling of fabric, with the fabric being our society. Things that use to be normal and dependable are no longer that way. The foundations upon which we built our lives are more than a little shaky. The steady places where we used to take comfort no longer seem so endurable.

In The Grapes of Wrath every firm place that the Joad family had walked upon simply disappeared. They lost their home, their way of living, their dignity and their pride. All along the journey, situations turned them over and out, up and down. But they had something that enabled them to get through it. They had the character of Ma Joad and her determination to keep her family together.

Nothing was more important to Ma Joad than the “fambly,” as she called it. There was a Pa and other members that made up the family, but it was the fierceness of Ma Joad that kept it together. She understood that the unraveling of her family would take them down a road that was simply unacceptable. I wish we had that kind of protective passion for our families today.

In this country we have an endangered species law and list. We go to serious and amazing lengths to protect their environment because we know that once they are gone, they won’t be coming back. The way things are going these days, we might put the American family at the top of the list.

I have heard many times in my life, “What we need is another Depression to bring us back to our senses.”

As I read the story of the Joad family and the Depression years that they encountered I wondered just how we might handle those times today. I know we have some strong individuals and there are some great families out there, but, overall, I am not certain just how successful we would be with the sort of years the Joad family of The Grapes of Wrath encountered.

Something’s happening in our country and we may be called upon to answer that very question. The answer will lie in the strength and faith of our families. God help us.