The Good Life: A Thousand Miles Apart

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

A Thousand Miles Apart

This summer, writer Sarah Mattison Buhl travels to see her family in Wisconsin. She embraces the differences, and vows to look deeply at the issues.

We’ve lived in Massachusetts for five good years. It is a sensible fit for my family, and a culturally rich place to set root. I’ve appreciated the hard-working, New England sensibility. I share the long-standing social liberalism of the state. The rural quiet resonates with me, having relocated from Wisconsin. In fact, my adopted city reminds me a lot of the city from where I came. We are back visiting the Badger State this summer as we do every year, but I am noticing differences between Wisconsin and Massachusetts more vividly now than any visit in recent years. My east coast beliefs and my core midwestern values feel out of sync for the first time. I feel fortunate to be fluent in both languages.

My brother is a true midwesterner–he ‘has land.’ He embodies the steely reserve of a hard-boiled , intelligent military leader. In fact, he has served his country for 32 years. Think Clint Eastwood as a 50-year-old Army Warrant Officer and you’ll have a good feel for his squinty character. He teaches my kids things that I can’t. You see, I am a “Political Liberal.” Social media and cable news have a precast characterization of me. So do my friends and family. And like most stereotypes, they are mostly right. However, I have the advantage of knowing and loving people on both sides of the fence. I appreciate and empathize with both sides of our divided country. Empathy and admiration are different things. Admiration has a thread of aspiration within it’s construct. Empathy seeing the differences, sitting quietly and actively listening to develop understanding. All humans are worthy of empathy. My brother has a four-wheeler and a truck. He owns guns, and teaches my kids how to handle firearms with the calm, unwavering reserve of a Jedi Master when we are in the midwest. I allow it.

During this summer of our nation’s discontent, I have decided to unburden myself from political gamesmanship, and actually think carefully about the issues, rather than towing the party line on every front. I absolutely still see myself as socially progressive, but not to the detriment of my family. My dad watches Fox news, and while we are visiting, so do my kids, as the TV is always on. It is good for them; They see the other side. My sixteen year old is really aware of the differences, and is growing tremendously this summer.

I don’t like Fox news, I’m radically opposed to gun violence, concealed carry and automatic weapons in our nation’s streets and homes. I loathe the NRA. But I really, really love my brother. I see him. I see his two tours in Iraq. I see his devotion to his wife and his work. I see his goodness. He and I are both patriots, a thousand miles apart.

This is a time like no other. Let’s treat each other with respect and empathy. I want it for my kids.

[Photo credit: (cc) William Garrett]


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.


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