Westborough Center Pastimes – March 19, 2021

(Library of Congress)

To Be Human

In a past newsletter, I posed three questions that I believe we should ask ourselves throughout the course of our lives. In this issue, I am going to address the second of the three questions: How can we fully experience what it means to be human?

Human beings are amazing creatures. We are clever and resourceful. We are so social that we are cultural. We alone are able to debate the extent to which we are different from other animals. And within a short period of time we have learned how to control and manipulate our environment to such a degree that we now have the ability to wipe out our very existence from the face of the planet, and in a variety of ways, no less.

Human beings are incredibly special, so it makes sense that we want to engage in activities at which we happen to excel. To do so, as I briefly argued in my last newsletter, is a crucial component to living a Good Life. Here is a list of activities that, for the most part, are special to humans, and by engaging in them, I would argue, allow us to feel and enjoy our humanness.

  • Engage in literacy. Of course a librarian would start with this one! Human beings learned to write 5,500 years ago and communicated through speech well before then. The ability to read and write is a major driver of civilization, because it allows us to store and pass along complex thoughts and ideas more easily through time and space. So write a short story, compose your memoirs, or at least pick up a book, or a magazine, or a newspaper, or a website, and read!

Suggested Reading: Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. Every good writer always looks for ways to improve. Clark offers practical advice that every writer can use in a non-threatening tone.

  • Exercise. When I learned years ago that our bodies were specially designed to run long distances, so that we could hunt down our prey by chasing it until it became exhausted, I decided to get back into running. After all, I figured, we should do what we’re designed to do. Now that I am creeping up in age, I no longer run, but I still go to the gym, which also has a long history that traces back at least to the Greeks (in fact, the word “gymnasium” itself derives from Greek).

Suggested Reading: The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Better by Gretchen Reynolds. I always enjoy reading Reynolds’s fitness column in the New York Times. Here, she discusses best practices for a variety of fitness goals.

  • Get a dog. – The relationship between dogs and humans is special—few species interact and rely on each other to the degree that we do. In fact, our relationship is so special that I would argue that getting a dog is important to experiencing what it means to be human. I hear you, cat people! But cats aren’t nearly as interested in us as we are in them. But if cats work for you, then go for it (or goats, or pigs, or hamsters, or fish . . .)! After all, animals have a lot to teach us about what it means to be human.

Suggested Reading: The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Dodman’s Seven Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your Best Friend by Nicholas H. Dodman. Dodman is a local dog expert and is Professor Emeritus at the Tufts veterinary school. In his book, he covers the art, and science, of dog ownership.

  • Explore spirituality and religions besides your own. Human beings are storytellers, and religions are full of stories that are heavily embedded with meaning and that ultimately are meant to teach us what it means to be human. I, for one, enjoy reading mythology (after all, they once formed the basis of a past civilization’s religion) but all religions can give us clues into helping us figure out what is important in our human world (and, perhaps, in the world above and beyond). And if religion isn’t your thing, try philosophy!

Suggested Reading: Living with the Gods: On Beliefs and Peoples by Neil MacGregor. The former director of the British Museum surveys the variety of ways that people across the globe have imagined their place in the cosmic universe and what happens when they conflict with one another.

  • Start a garden. For better and for worse, human beings began to engage in agriculture around 10,000 years ago. While agriculture theoretically helped us better control our food supply, it also tied us to the land, lengthened the amount of time and effort we had to put in to securing our food, and created some severe consequences for our global environment. But now it’s a crucial part of who we are, so why not try growing some of your own food? Don’t have a green thumb? At least patronize one of our local farms or farmer’s markets.

Suggested Reading: Kitchen Gardening for Beginners: A Simple Guide to Growing Fruit and Vegetables by Simon Akeryod. There are any number of books about growing your own food, and some even show you how to do so without a yard. This book covers the basics without overwhelming the beginning gardener.

  • Create art and/or engage in a craft. Humans are creative in many ways, especially when it comes to working with our hands. Our ability to create something that has the power to move us or simply tickle our fancy out of essentially nothing is joyful and awe-inspiring. Don’t worry if your first attempt looks like Homer Simpson’s spice rack. Your next attempt will be much better.

Suggested Reading: A Craftsman’s Legacy: Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning by Eric Gorges. I love watching this series on PBS. This book goes into more detail about Eric Gorges’s philosophy and the importance of craft.

Yikes! I’ve run out of room, and I’m only half-way through my list! I guess human beings are much too complex and interesting to cover in one newsletter.

Next: Continue on to the next issue where I continue my list.

In the meantime, do you want to take a guess about what will appear on my list next time? Share your guesses in the comment section.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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Another great way to experience our humanness is to be kind to one another!

Join Westborough Connects for Spring Kindness Week (3/21-3/27). They will be kicking off the week on Sunday, March 21st at 1 p.m. with a virtual presentation by the Ben’s Bells. This inspirational program will focus on the importance of (and science behind) intentional kindness, and the role kindness plays in connecting communities. It is intended for all ages.

HERE is a link to register for the program. For those registered, Take-and-Spread Kindness Toolkits will be available to “grab and go” after the presentation to help spread kindness the rest of the week. Each day, celebrate with a different themed activity with Partners in Kindness (several businesses and organizations in town) who will be spreading and recognizing kindness in a variety of ways.

You can keep up to date on Spring Kindness Week events on the Westborough Connects website, their Facebook page, or by signing up to be on the Westborough Connects mailing list.

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Now that the snow has melted for good (let’s hope!), a walk in the woods reveals like no other time of the year those mysterious stone walls that run throughout our New England countryside. Who put them there, and why? You can find answers to these questions and more in these books, which are available in the Westborough Center Circulating Collection outside the entrance to the Westborough Center inside the library.

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Why is there a sleigh weathervane on Town Hall? Zoom into the Westborough Historical Society’s free program, “William Sibley (1821-1890): Citizen, Soldier, Sleighmaker,” on Monday, March 29, at 7:00 p.m. to find the answer.

Jim O’Connor chronicles the life of William Sibley, a Westborough sleighmaker, at a time of national crisis and dissension. A respected citizen, Sibley joined Westborough’s Company K when he accepted President Lincoln’s call for volunteers after the attack on Ft. Sumter and the succession of the Southern states. Upon his return from war, he became one of the leading sleigh manufacturers in Westborough in the 1850s. William Sibley built the 1844 Greek Revival home at 13 Parkman St., including his sleigh shop. The Sibley House is now the headquarters of the Westborough Historical Society.

Attendance is limited to 100 and requires registering in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0vcu6ppjgpH91gH7b73btEdvQIaAYzvR5b

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing a unique link to join the meeting.

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Local History Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox: https://www.westboroughcenter.org/subscribe-to-updates/. The newsletter is published every first and third Friday of the month.

 

Westborough Local History Pastimes – March 5, 2021

The Good Life

Mr. Curmudgeon: The Good Life

In my last newsletter, I posed three questions that I believe we should ask ourselves throughout the course of our lives. In this issue, I am going to address the first of the three questions: What does it mean to live a good life?

Media and popular culture work hard to convince us that the answer to this question lies in the amount of money we have, the number of possessions we own, the relative quality of those possessions (the more luxurious, the better!), and the number of extravagant experiences we can accumulate. Examples abound. My Lottery Dream Home, Bahama Beachfront, and other house hunting shows (my latest television obsession) all portray people searching for the perfect home that will set them up with a “happy-ever-after” lifestyle. Commercials show people living satisfying lives after having purchased a given product. And Social Media Influencers make it their “job” to live fabulous lives by traveling to expensive resorts, wearing fancy clothes, and using luxury products—and then try to convince us to follow their lead and purchase the same.

It’s not a surprise. Our capitalist system relies on us buying into the notion that we should always be striving to accumulate more and better things. The problem is that such goals rarely lead to personal fulfillment. Actually, the system is designed in precisely these terms: if, in the end, we remain personally unsatisfied after our recent purchase, then the solution obviously must reside in our next purchase.

Similarly, we are conditioned to believe that advances in technology and industrial production have vastly improved the quality of our lives over time, but before we accept this belief wholesale, we must pause. If we are all spending one to two hours a day commuting back and forth to work to maintain this “improved” lifestyle, is that a good life? Studies of happiness have shown that there is a strong inverse relationship to the amount of time one commutes and one’s overall well-being. (One of the few positive outcomes from the current pandemic may be the realization that the hamster wheels we had been running on are not as desirable, or as necessary, as we once thought.)

In fact, before we settle in to the idea that our enjoyment of advanced civilization offsets the relative misery of our working lifestyle, consider the following. Small-scale tribal societies, who normally rank as “primitive” by our economic and technological standards, enjoyed much more leisure time, lower stress, and greater personal connections within their communities than we do. One study shows that a member of the Ju/’hoansi “Bushmen” tribe, who lived an isolated existence in Namibia and Botswana up until the late 20th century, spent a total of 17 hours per week searching for food and another 20 hours on chores, whereas average full-time employees in the U.S. now spend 44 hours per week on work before they even get to domestic chores and childcare. The Ju/’hoansi enjoyed far more time than we do to lounge, gossip, dance, sing, and tell stories. Their lifestyle sounds a lot like the one that my television house hunters are seeking!

The supposed superiority of our Western lifestyle takes another blow when we consider American colonial history, where we can easily find cases of individual European settlers deciding to abandon their settlements and live instead with Native people. On the other hand, the opposite—Native people freely deciding to abandon their tribe and live among Europeans—is extremely rare in the historical record. Westborough’s story of the abduction of the Rice Boys in 1704 offers one case in point, with Silas and Timothy Rice preferring to stay with the tribe that abducted them rather than return to Westborough with their father when he finally located them.

Other people may find answers to living the good life simply in accumulating wealth, which brings with it security and stability. I have to admit that there is a lot of appeal to this approach, because I really value security and stability. But then I came across the following passage while recently reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

[E]very one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realization he ends by arriving at complete solitude. . . . He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges that he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. (2.6.2 d)

Hm, I never thought of wealth in that way.

My central aim here is not to argue the (de)merits of capitalism and technological development. Nor do I want to imply that economic comfort should not be part of what it means to live a good life. I only raise the above examples because of the easy hold they seem to have on all of us and to show how the seemingly simple question that I ask may be far more complicated—yet personally fulfilling—to answer than we may first think.

For me, my answer to the question, “What does it mean to live a good life?” lies in being able to explore and experience to the best of my ability the full extent of what it means to be human, which leads to our next question. . .

Next up: How can we fully experience what it means to be human?

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

What do you think makes up a “good life”? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

Suggested Reading

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Lyman School Baseball Team, ca. 1905-1912

The arrival of spring brings the arrival of baseball! Stop by the display case outside of the Westborough Center and check out the new exhibit, Westborough Baseball, to see the game through the eyes of Westborough history.

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Historical church records can shed tremendous light on the lives of everyday people living in 17th– and 18th-century colonial America, and no town knows that more than Westborough. New England’s Hidden Histories, a project of the Congregational Library and Archives and a crucial partner in the Westborough Center’s Ebenezer Parkman Project website, seeks to digitize these historical records and make them freely available to the public.

Learn more about this exciting digitization project in the YouTube video, New England’s Hidden Histories: A Roundtable Discussion. James (Jeff) Cooper, the director of the project, and his guests talk about the challenges of hunting down, collecting, capturing, and storing these fragile records in digital form. Who knew that dusty church records could be so interesting?!

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Did you enjoy reading this Westborough Local History Pastimes newsletter? Then subscribe by e-mail and have the newsletter and other notices from the Westborough Center for History and Culture at the Westborough Public Library delivered directly to your e-mail inbox: https://www.westboroughcenter.org/subscribe-to-updates/.

 

Online Exhibit: Westborough Baseball

People have been playing baseball in Westborough since at least 1869. This exhibit showcases items and photographs in the Westborough Center collections that relate to baseball in Westborough history.

 

Saturday Evening Chronotype, September 4, 1869

Earliest known report of a baseball game in a Westborough newspaper.

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Westborough Baseball Team, 1906

Back Row – [?], George Taylor, Clarence Leland, [?], Mr. Waldren

Second Row – [?], David Roche, Frank Moses

Front Row – Lawrence Taylor, Frank Reily, [?], George Reily

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Westborough Baseball Team, (ca. 1916)

Back Row – Joe Boudreau, John Linnane, Irving Hennessy, Ben Arnold

Second Row – Carl Henry, Leon Rogers, Ken Winter, Bill Crowell

Front Row – Ken Bruce, Leon Cantor(?), Walter Hayden, [?], John Foster

Note: Leon Cantor is also featured in a previous exhibit: Putting Names with Faces: WWI and Veteran’s Day.

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Baseball at the Lyman School, ca. 1905-1912

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Jeff Barclay at bat for the Fays Dairy Little League team in 1959

1959 – Final League Standings (sorry, Jeff)

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Westborough American Legion Baseball Yearbook, 1977

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“Baseball Players,” 2018-2019

Photograph by Brandin Tumeinski, the 2018-2019 Westborough Center Photographer-in-Residence.