By LINDSAY MYERS — How do you describe a community? What sort of information matters?
Thorton Wilder’s 1938 play “Our Town” considers these questions as it explores the lives of several residents in a small New England town around the turn of the 20th century. The people are ordinary folk, marking their days by the births, marriages, and deaths of their friends and neighbors. And though none of the residents are important enough to be mentioned in a history book, the ordinary events of their lives are important to them. The narrator of the play reflects on this distinction as the first act unfolds:
“Y’know — Babylon once had two million people in it,” he says, “and all we know about ‘em is the names of the kings and some copies of wheat contracts … and contracts for the sale of slaves. Yet every night all those families sat down to supper, and the father came home from his work, and the smoke went up the chimney — same as here.”
History, the narrator suggests, misses the poetry of the commonplace: the bonds formed through shared daily meals and work, the laughter of neighbors lingering too long on a front porch, the security of a supportive community. These moments, these relationships, are what really matter to the living, breathing human beings whom history attempts to record.
To solve this problem for the members of his little town, the narrator decides to have a copy of the play put into a time capsule.
“[So] the people a thousand years from now’ll know a few simple facts about us, “ he explains. “This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.”
Here at the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T), we like to think that we play a role in recording “the way we were.” And though this mostly translates to reporting the cold, hard facts that belong to history, we recognize that many of us stick around Hyattsville because it lives and breathes that poetry of the commonplace: It’s a place where families and neighbors really do want to know one another and to be with them through their growing up, their marrying, their living, and their dying.
Thus, every couple of weeks, in an effort to support these sorts of relationships, the HL&T will publish an interview with a member of our community as part of a new series called “Humans of Hyattsville.” It is our hope that these interviews will give you a glimpse into how remarkable your neighbors really are — even if they’re not someone who would ordinarily make local headlines. We’ll feature most of these profiles online, but we’re kicking off “Humans of Hyattsville” in this month’s print edition to help spread the word. If you like what you see, write me at Lindsay@HyattsvilleLife.com with the names of other members of our community who might make for a good feature.
Now, without further ado, we present our first Human of Hyattsville: Monica Gorman, a 24-year-old operations research analyst who lives with her husband and young daughter on “Hamilton, like the president” Street.
Why did you decide to settle in Hyattsville?
My family lives here, and my husband and I knew we wanted to live near them. We also wanted to go to St. Jerome’s parish.
What are some of your favorite aspects of life in Hyattsville?
My family, of course! I love the community at St. Jerome’s, and I like being able to walk and take public transit (we don’t have a car). I also want to shout out my favorite local business: Emerita’s Pupuseria!
What do you wish Hyattsville did differently? How can it be improved?
Like I said, I like walking, but I would love to be able to do it without being harassed by groups of strange men hanging around on the sidewalk. When I tell them to cut it out, they’ve responded with unprintable slurs, and when I ignore them (the standard advice, especially from my parents’ generation), they just keep on, or sometimes follow me down the sidewalk a ways. They also do it when my baby daughter is with me, and I don’t want her to grow up thinking that it’s normal for a woman to be subject to sexual comments and questions from strangers just because she dared to step out the door.
How would you describe yourself?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motherhood as an identity. During pregnancy I had a lot of trouble holding on to my sense of self, and everyone telling me that I would “become a different person” when I gave birth certainly didn’t help. Being a woman feels like part of my identity, as does being Catholic and being a Gorman, but being a mother isn’t my identity or even an identity to me. It’s just my relationship to one specific person. It’s an important relationship, of course, but how I relate to my daughter is not who I am. My self is ontologically prior to my relationships with other people, except, I suppose, my own parents, which explains why family membership (the Church is another family I was born into) seems to qualify as identity-constituting.
But whenever anyone who’s not my child addresses me as “mom,” I want to put them in a cannon and fire them into the sun.
How does your vision of who you wanted to become when you were a kid match up with your vision for yourself right now?
When I was little, I was totally convinced I wanted to be a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother, a charming plan that didn’t take my personality into account at all, so I’m not sad to have changed course. I also wanted a horse (obviously), which doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.
What are some important causes that matter to you, both locally and beyond?
I wish we, as a society, had a much stronger ethic of unchosen obligation — that we had the moral and political language, in common, to insist that we have duties towards other people, even when we don’t know them or didn’t ask for any responsibility towards them. Whether those people are poor, or sick, or lonely, or unborn, or undocumented, or homeless or orphaned — or what have you — their needs obligate us, individually and collectively, just because they’re people, and they’re there. Sometimes this is a terrible burden, but it’s part of being human. Not everyone can provide every support, but everyone has a right to support.
What are your favorite things to do offline?
Every so often, I get to go camping or hiking and remember how much I love it. Being outdoors always makes me feel very peaceful (and I come home with no desire to get online, though that obviously doesn’t last forever).