What we have lost

Visiting Bokrijk

Last Tuesday I relaxed at the Bokrijk Open Air Museum which remains one of my favourite places to spent a day or even just an afternoon with your kids. We had two nephews visiting who had not been to Bokrijk before. That was a great opportunity to load everyone in the car and drive to the middle of the beautiful province of Limburg, here in Belgium.

Back to the Future

For those not familiar with Bokrijk, the park aims to take the visitor back to the period around 1913. It has authentic buildings of that period and a bit later and it is populated by actors who go about their daily routines as if it is the beginning of the 20th century. This includes a small school with a headmaster, a church with a chaplain, and farmers all around. The feeling is pretty close to what is probably was like over 100 years ago.

And whenever I am there, I have a profound feeling we have lost something along the way from then to now.

Practising then what we condemn now

To be clear, I’m not saying it was better then. It clearly was not. There was rampant inequality, with women being considered either stupid – which confided them to the kitchen – or dangerous – which ended them in a monastery: crowd control by scared men over women. The life was harder than we can even imagine today, especially right before the second world war in Europe. And there were a lot of practices that we consider irrelevant now, such as learning by heart the 447 rules about God which were written up in the “Catechismus”, a small booklet which every household had and answered any question which you had about God. We condemn such practices now when we see them in another religion, but 100 years ago they figured largely in our own education system.

What we have lost

But it is not about that … it is about a closeness to reality, to nature all around, to each other as well. Small villages were largely self-sufficient, caring for their own food and drink with local breweries ever present. There was a strong community because the contribution of each of its members was essential. There was also a level of respect for nature, because of its force and unforgiving nature on the one hand but also because failing to care for nature ended up in not having anything to survive. We are so far away from that in our current society nowadays. And a human, as a group animal, requires groups of 50 to 150 people close around them to be content. Even with all our apps, and social media, a lot of people I see around me are very alone. Disconnected from the group, disconnected from nature. Essentially suffocating themselves because they fail to connect to what they need most.

When we are talking about quality of life, we should also be having this conversation … how to get back to that closeness to our surroundings and the people around us without necessarily losing what we have built.

Perhaps you should go there

Want to experience what I am talking about? Go visit! Bokrijk is about one hour drive away from Leuven, close to Hasselt. Go there with your loved ones, or even alone, and breathe in the atmosphere. It’s more than worth it.