The village town of Galena is on the outskirts of the Mississippi River, on the western edge of Illinois — a once prosperous trading post.
Today, it is a tourist attraction with a curious combination of main streets crowded with modern cars next to historic old buildings erected at a time when technology could build nothing taller than a few stories.
I have written a lot on this blog about our seemingly constant efforts to connect with our past. I won’t dwell on that obvious connection again.
But I will linger on another thought I had during last weekend’s visit to this little historic oddball of a town: the importance of context in how people treat each other.
In Galena, most everyone was a visitor. All of us exploring together — in the same figurative boat. The locals were happy to see us, of course.
And we all had few places to go, few appointments to keep, no daily responsibilities and chores beckoning.
The result was genuine kindness. People smiling, talking to each other, strolling by. It helped to have a cute puppy along as a conversation starter, but still.
Our cities and our daily lives are not designed this way.
I remember someone telling me once that — generally speaking — most of our lives revolve around a fairly small geographic area. It’s where we work, where most of our friends are, at least the ones we see daily, and where most of our daily chores of life are conducted.
But many of our cities are so much bigger, sprawling. It can take miles just to go from one place to another. It forces us to be in a hurry. Perpetually, it seems. At least that’s been true everywhere I’ve lived.
But kindness can’t be rushed. So, it gives way as we hurry about.
Strolling in Galena, confined to just a few blocks of red-brick buildings, storefronts and restaurants, the layers of daily life’s artifice are stripped away. And people can be themselves.
Much better that way.