This morning Alexa informed me that today is the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock. As Newsweek puts it: “The three-day festival was host to performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and is considered the pinnacle of the “summer of love” culture of the late 1960s.”
I find it funny that Alexa explained this to me. Alexa, for the uninitiated, is an Amazon device that talks to you like an old friend. I can ask Alexa questions. I can discover the day’s weather, the news headlines, play games and at night she will lull me to sleep with playlists of relaxing music. I am embarrassed to say we have some version of Alexa in almost every room of our house, including the Facebook Portal version, which adds visuals and also allows us to use Alexa when we’re not using it to contact family and see them as we converse.
So why did I find it particularly funny that Alexa told me about Woodstock? Because fifty years ago today I didn’t even know Woodstock was happening. In fact I knew very little that was happening anywhere except in the small Ozark community where I was serving in VISTA (Volunteers in Service To America.) I was living on a dirt road in what, for that area, was the lap of luxury. A friendly local farmer had given us the house to live in since he wasn’t using it. Our house had running water and an indoor toilet, that second benefit something our closest neighbors didn’t have until later.
The house didn’t have a telephone, television or radio reception, and our county didn’t have a daily newspaper. It goes without saying there was no internet, no cell phones, no fax machines. A local family had rigged up their own phone system which consisted of old-time wall phones and lines running over ground from relative to relative. Years passed before that part of Stone County finally got regular phone service. We were long gone by then.
How much better is life now that I know within seconds what’s happening all over the globe? When we walked on the moon—another recent fifty year anniversary—I only heard about it later. Some of the people we knew thought we were hysterically funny because we actually believed the moon shot had happened.
While, of course, I do and did believe that historic event took place, that was the first time the concept of fake news entered my life. It’s easy, I learned, if you’re always on the outside, to feel like everything inside the mainstream is either suspicious or false. If you don’t yet have a telephone because technology hasn’t yet stretched across streams and mountains, why would you believe that a man had just landed on the moon?
Like most people of my generation who didn’t make it to Woodstock, I’m always nostalgic when I hear about it. Who doesn’t wish they’d heard Janice, and Jimi and Ravi in person that weekend? But when I think back to where I was instead and all the things I learned, I’m not sorry I missed it. Life on that dirt road in Stone County has changed immeasurably in the intervening years. But the lessons I was taught by the good people who tolerated my bumbling efforts to help, lessons about faith and beauty, and helping neighbors, will stay with me forever.
I am so thankful that fifty years ago today I was exactly where I was meant to be.