Embracing Change


                                   

                                                –by Neal Lemery

Change is in the air. The rains have returned, leaves are turning, and autumn is here. 

Some change is welcome. Yet, I resist many changes. The old ways of thinking are comforting and soothing, predictable. I’m set in my ways, determined and often obstinate. I most always am thinking I have all the answers, I know all the facts, and I’ve always reached the proper conclusions. 

People I agree with have also miraculously reached these same conclusions.          

I can blame my attitude on age. But I was at least as stubborn in my younger years. Part of who I am and how I navigate life can be traced to genetics, and part on the times we live in. 

This is an age of contrariness, obstinance, and too often, argument for argument’s sake. That feistiness is often wrapped in the blanket of divisive politics and thinking that one’s own theology and morality should be everyone’s correct thinking.

There should be no surprise that our sense of current affairs, that focus on egotism, has persisted throughout human history. Heated politics has always dominated our country’ public forums.

            The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic has shaken our desire for stability and “normal”. Our fears, assumptions, and problem-solving skills have been deeply shaken by the unpredictability, this “facelessness” of cause of this invisible and increasingly fatal infestation. The pandemic seems out of control. Many resist what others, often experts in the field, say are useful and life-saving practices. The issues don’t lend themselves to resolution and harmony. 

            All this argument increases our society’s divisiveness, making humankind’s informed responses less effective. I am reminded of Lincoln’s phrase: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

            And, real change requires that I deeply examine my own thinking, my own analytics, and look to correct my thinking and be better informed. I need to be more of a citizen and pay less attention to my ego.

            I am but one person. But I can make a difference in this world.

            This change of seasons brings us new tasks and new opportunities. We are being called to action, to bring new tools and new viewpoints to old problems and old thinking. 

            Angela Davis writes: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

            Each of us is an instrument of change, a presence in the world for real fundamental change. It starts inside of each of us, and can then spread to friends, families, the institutions we are part of. Politics and society don’t change unless and until we as individuals change. It starts with each of us, almost on a cellular level.

            The opportunity for real change is here and now. It starts with me, and with you. Now. 

            What we need — facts, methods, organizing, communication — are literally in our hands. Change takes time, commitment, and persistence. We each and collectively have all of this, in abundance.

            “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

9/22/2021. Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

Living With Fear in Challenging Times


https://anchor.fm/neal-lemery/episodes/Living-With-Fear-in-Challenging-Times-e17256f

                                               — By Neal Lemery 

I can find a lot of things to be afraid of. Nights can be long and my imagination can easily flesh out the shapes and skills of many monsters.  Whether or not they might be real doesn’t matter, for they take root in my brain, where I can easily imagine them in all their hideous glory.  They feed on my heart energy, too, sucking away my sense of self-esteem and my sense of purpose in this world, to make it a better place and to live my life as a loving, caring person, governed by kindness and generosity.  

Those fears feed on my self-doubt, and the wounds left from previous battles and the cruel words of others, who have felt entitled to evaluate and grade my many possible deficiencies. They are partners with the insecurities that live in that mental file cabinet drawer labeled “not good enough”.  It is also easy to feed on the drama and gloom of the day’s headlines. 

I can see the glass as half empty or half full, and the problems of the day either a disaster or as opportunity.  Life has an abundance of choices, and opportunities to act with courage. 

We all have choices.  Every generation, every time has had its challenges. Society has faced and managed other crises and obstacles, and the human spirit has prevailed. Now it is our time to deal with today’s challenges, and we are well-equipped to take them on. We are the descendants of generations of successful problem solvers and leaders.  

I am my own gatekeeper, the captain of my own ship.  I am the one who has the power to let others in, to march around my heart, and speak to me on a deep, personal, and vulnerable level.  If their presence does not serve me well, then it is up to me to show them to the door and to leave me in peace.  I remind myself that I live my life for me, and not to please someone else. 

If I let fear run my life, to be the governing principle of my existence, my personality, and my spiritual essence, then I need to own that choice, as well as the consequences of that mindset, that perspective of how my life is to be managed and lived.  I suggest, however, that such a mindset, of fear and doom, such a psychological software package, is contrary to my own self-interest, and my own self-benefit.  Being fearful is not who I want to be, nor how I want to live.

Today is Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish new year, a time of self-reflection and new beginnings. I am both comforted and motivated by these wise words from the Talmud:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

9/7/2021

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/7/21

Spreading Some Good Cheer


                                               

                                                                        By Neal Lemery

            “Be a reflection of what you like to receive. If you want love, give love. If you want truth, be truthful. If you want respect, give respect. You reap what you sow.”

                                                                        –anonymous

            I’m often frustrated by the news of the day, or the way life has become a real challenge to some of my friends and neighbors.  Some days, I just pay lip service to my frustrations, and realize I’m whining, but then I realize I could take action.  

Each one of us could do better, and I believe we all have the ability to bring about change.  Do we simply lack the will to make the change, to do the right thing, and make our corner of the world a little better?  Or is all the inaction because I haven’t found the magic wand to cure all the woes of the world? 

“Put up or shut up,” as my grandmother would say when I’d just complain and whine. 

            Change is often hard, and requires will power to move ahead or change direction, to live our lives differently so that we don’t keep repeating old and dysfunctional patterns of behavior.  We expect that of our kids and we expect that of others in our lives.  We often don’t expect that of ourselves, though, and keep ourselves moving in the same old ruts, then wonder why life doesn’t improve.  One counselor friend calls that “stinking thinking”. 

            Often, the real work of making a better world goes back to the basics, the simple things that changes lives.  The action can be a simple as a short conversation, or the gift of some flowers or a book or a casserole dropped off at a friend’s house.  When I’ve been the recipient of such small acts of kindness, I am often transformed and enlightened, and the clouds in my life are lifted.  Opportunities open up, all because of a simple act of kindness. It is the power of feeling valued. 

            “I care” goes a very long way in brightening our world.  Yes, some problems are monumental and need years of commitment to be remedied.  But, the relationships to implement those solutions are based on acting on healthy and compassionate thoughts.  The foundation of that work is in the details, the small things that add up and bring about real change.

            “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousa Fzai. 

            I recently read about Dolly Parton’s generosity.  She grew up in an impoverished rural area of Tennessee.  After talking with others about the county’s dismal high school graduation rates and literacy statistics, she took action.  She engaged high school students to motivate them to graduate. She funded teacher aides for every first-grade class, after learning that having one on one tutoring and attention in the first grade dramatically reduced dropout rates and boosted academic and social success for teens.  Every kid began to receive a free book every month.  The cost was not astronomical, but her money was prudently invested in small things that transformed lives.  That money, and, more significantly, that level of compassion and interest, made all the difference for all of those kids. Someone noticed and cared. 

            That generosity continues today, and those programs have been utilized across the country. That work addresses basic needs and advocates timeless values of individual attention, one on one relationships, self-worth, and putting books in the hands of eager young people. 

            We can all do that kind of work and give attention and kindness to those in need. 

            It can start with a few kind words in the line at the grocery store, or meeting for coffee with a friend who needs a compassionate ear.  It’s a hand-written note put in the mail to someone who did a kind deed.  Maybe the kindness wasn’t out of the ordinary, but you can at least notice it and tell someone they are appreciated.   When you are the recipient of such kindness, “pay it forward” is genuine magic and greases the social machinery.  

            If you want to change the conversation, if you want to bring about real change, it can start with you.

7/22/2021

Shopping the Cultural Marketplace


                        

Published in the Tillamook County (Oregon) Pioneer March 9, 2021

                                                by Neal Lemery

            When it comes to opinions and ideas, we are both the producers and the consumers.

            I’m always looking out for the latest idea, the most interesting cultural experience. “New stuff” takes many forms – local news, some new political development, updates on a friend’s family or business, not to mention a beautiful photo a talented photographer has posted on social media. The list of what piques my interest seems endless. I’m like the house cat with a ball of yarn or a catnip-filled toy.

            Most of my interest comes with a new idea of how to look at the world and approaches to challenging problems.  Finding a well-written new book, meeting with a good friend or joining in a group discussion gets my juices going. And if the new idea comes from me, I’m more than happy to “market” it to my friends and others who have the same interests.  

            Like everyone else in this age of social media and digitized information, I’m able to wear both the hat of the producer and and the consumer.  The choice is mine.  I’m the gatekeeper of my cultural experiences.  

            While some may bemoan the perceived censorship or manipulation of a snippet of our cultural offerings, each of us is still capable of finding the story, and choosing how we react, and what we do with the new knowledge.  If someone wants to cancel my own cultural experience, to act as my censor, they face a daunting, if not impossible task.  

            I’m drawn to the deep discussion. The op ed page of a great newspaper is like honey in my tea, and I find a deep satisfaction in the well-thought argument, the well-researched point of view. I might even change my mind or have an intellectual growth spurt.  The more diverse the opinion, the better.  I love the mixing of curious minds.

            My coffee table groans with a wide assortment of books and articles on a wide variety of topics. And, it is up to me, not some powerful media mogul, to decide what ideas I’m going to spend my time on.  If I am going to be manipulated, what I consume is truly my own choice.  

            The idea of freedom of speech also includes both the freedom to listen and the responsibility to choose my materials wisely.  

            I am my own traffic cop in this hectic intersection of ideas, the melting pot of the great American conversation. How I respond to the ideas of others, as well as what I choose to put out into the world, is my choice.  We traffic cops have responsibilities, with truth telling and well-reasoned viewpoints being the primary duties we all have to the community. 

            This marketplace of ideas is at the heart of the American experience. Innovative thoughts and new approaches have always brought about needed change, and has helped us improve our lives and the lives of future generations.  The clash of ideas, the often heated discussions, provide the sparks that light the fires in our brains, and bring about a renewed, invigorated society.  

            If I fall to the toxic atmosphere of fear and intolerance, I’m cutting myself short, and denying myself access to the riches of the marketplace of ideas. I’m neglecting my own duties as the producer and the consumer, and I’m making the community conversation a mere shadow of what it can offer all of us.  

Raging against an opinion or perspective that is not your own only serves to suffocate this marketplace, and limit the work of the marketplace in producing new thought and dynamic change.  We need to learn to be better listeners. We also need to examine another viewpoint without the limits of our own fears and biases and be the seekers of truth and reason.  

If I am the good listener, and an advocate of reason and truth seeking, at the end of the day I might have even learned something, and come closer to helping to solve a problem. 

3/8/2021

Finding Courage in Myself to Move Ahead


                                    

                                                                                    –by Neal Lemery

            In this Pandemic, it has become too easy to simply put things off, to delay, to live a life filled with procrastination.  What was normal life is mostly on hold. Social obligations, work projects, and most everything that is considered community life is now on pause. And, if something is on the calendar, there’s an excellent chance it will be cancelled or postponed. 

The daily lesson is patience, seasoned with flexibility.

            Being with others is now a health risk, a public issue of great concern.  Gatherings without health precautions are seen as literally putting our lives at risk. I stay at home, and rarely go out in public, never without my mask and sanitizer, being a dutiful citizen, and a guardian of my family’s health, as well as saving my own life. 

            Community life continues, with virtual connections, personally distanced interactions, and being content to live our lives at home, avoiding the usual and expected social gatherings. 

            At the same time, I also need to move ahead, concentrating on the work that I need to do, advancing my projects and my commitments to improve myself and my community, being a nurturer, caregiver, and a catalyst for productive change. 

            It is easy to hide away, to be fearful of the world, and how it has changed and become more threatening. I could ignore all the strident political rhetoric, and the ragings of those fearful of being informed and logical analysts, but I’m a stubborn cuss.  

            I resist ignorance and lethargy.  I want life to be better, and I’m driven to change the world and make it better.  I believe action is better than being idle and letting life just pass me by. I’ve always been hungry for the truth, for the previously undiscovered reality and honesty of a situation.  As a kid, I would often tax my family by persistently asking “why?”  It remains one of my favorite words.  

            At a music camp, I was struck by the title of one of the camp teachers.  She was the Instigator.  She’d wander around, finding impromptu jam sessions, or a group of us gathering for lunch or refilling our coffees, and she’d start to instigate.  She’d add a few licks to a jam session, or stir up a conversation about some aspects of music, and get us revved up.  She’d sit in on classes, offering a lively riff or a fresh observation about our topic of the hour.  

            Every group needs an Instigator, a provocateur, the stirrer of the pot.  Challenging old thinking and set-in-the-ways traditional activities is a necessary role.  Too often, we become complacent. 

            The Pandemic has stirred us up, even though we are often required to be sedentary, or anti-social.  But those concepts, I submit, are illusionary.  Self-isolating just requires new approaches to how we engage with others, and how we still can be forces for change.  We have more time for reading, for making music, writing, and for engaging with others, albeit virtually or those old fashioned methods of making a phone call and writing a letter.  In those methodologies, I have found new paths to rich relationships, productive creativity and some deep discussions. Webinars and Zoom meetings bring me in touch with enlightening people from around the world, their voices a welcome addition to my home, which is now my classroom to the world.  

            I’m learning new skills, and finding new resources.  I ‘m connecting with new voices and new philosophies, new ways of problem solving.  When we are free to travel and to go to meetings and events, there will be times when I will choose to stay home and be a virtual attendee.  I’ll save on travel time and travel expenses, and still have the benefits of being “present” and engaged. Yet, some events will be even richer for those intimate, one-on-one conversations, the side bars that make a meeting all the more fruitful. 

            Life is, after all, all about relationships, and being in the same room, fully engaged with all of our senses, often makes our experiences deeper and more satisfying.  

            Today, I’m more appreciative of nature, no longer taking for granted those rich moments of being observant, engaged in the natural rhythm of daily life. I’m finding time for solitude, and for just “being”, to be intensely satisfying. This is a time of tending to my soul, of tapping into the deep well of personal creativity and originality.  Modern life has sidetracked me from such opportunities, and I’m grateful for this Pandemic time, to remind me of my own humanity and my own hunger to connect with the natural world, to be part of the world.  

            When I do engage with others, I’m more mindful, more thoughtful, and certainly more “present”, in mind, body, and in spirit.  I live more slowly, more intentionally.

            Like anything in life, we are changed by what we experience, what comes our way in our journey.  After the Pandemic, we won’t go “back to where we were”.  Humanity has never done that.  We’ve always been changed, and moved to a different place, requiring us to have a different mind-set, and a different attitude about the world around us. Rather than fight against these changes, I believe we are called to embrace the changes, to learn and to adapt, and to be the change that we want to see in the world.  I’ll have more choices on how I want to engage the world, to be an Instigator.

1/26/2021

Inspiring Quotes from 2020


PROMISE YOURSELF …

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something special in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but great deeds.

To live in faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

–Christian D. Larson, “Your Forces and How to Use Them”

                                    Other Good Quotes

            “Get exposed to other people’s truths and attitudes change.”

                        –Barack Obama

            “People do what they want to do.”

                        –Dear Amy (advice columnist)

            “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

                        –Dolly Parton

            “A candle is a small thing. But one candle can light another. And see how its light increases, as a candle gives its flame to the other. You are such a light.”

            –Moshe Davis

“Writers write the books they need to read.”

            A modern proverb, repeated by Kathleen Parker

Holding Space


 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

These are not gentle times. And, having a mean streak seems almost a requirement these days, as we navigate social media and the cultural and political climate.

Our culture, and so many commentators and “leaders”, are so quick to make judgement, to express opinions, and eagerly offer criticism and condemnation of others’ points of view.  Political, social, and artistic criticism now is so often unkind, harsh, even vicious to the point of hostility and intolerance.

It is an easy train to climb aboard, and my snarky and off-handed comments are often a computer click away from getting out into the world, showing up on the social media “news feeds” that have become the path by which most of us engage with others. Be quick, spontaneous, “get it out there”, and move on to something else.  The popular term, “click bait” comes to mind as having a meaning larger than how we define the term. Is being polite too time consuming, too unfashionable? It seems easier just to fire off a salvo, and “let it fly”.

We’ve come a long way from the days when social commentary and personal expression in public came after laboring over a sheet of linen paper with a quill pen, and a pot of ink.  A letter to the editor not only took time to compose and hand write, but also required an envelope, a stamp, and a trip to the post office. Public expression took time and effort, and hopefully a lot of thought in the process.

I am realizing I’ve been conditioned to be the Pavlovian dog, to respond to stimuli in an expected, routine “in a New York minute” way, simply becoming a product of this age of advertising, manipulation, and conditioning.

But what if I was, instead, calm, supportive, caring, and expressed unconditional compassion and love? Perhaps just being present, in a kind way, should be my response to others in conflict and crisis. Can I just suspend judgement and criticism? Maybe not feeding my ego with my unappreciated and intrusive opinions when simply being there for someone, and exuding gentle support and kindness would be much more appreciated and needed in the situation.

            “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support.”

    —Lynn Hauka  —Coach

In life, we have numerous job titles and duties, and often, those are multiple roles, calling upon our experiences and our ability to navigate the complexities and subtleties of modern life. Being the son, the father, the uncle, the spouse, the friend, the mentor, the teacher, the confidante is a role more appropriate by just quietly being there for someone.  Unwanted and often uninformed advice often taints the situation, and shame, guilt, and a sense of failure soon follows.

Holding space “…means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

—Heather Plett

 

What the situation really often calls for is compassion and unconditional love, a holding of sacred space to just “let it be”. That may not be what our culture seems to expect, yet it is a revolutionary and culture-changing response.

For me, I need to take a breath, and let it out slowly, taking my time to plan my response, and to put myself in the most effective position of the supporting, compassionate friend and listening post that the person in need is really needing to have around when the crisis is at hand.

We don’t have to rush in, armed with our snap judgements and fire hose responses, issuing our breathless bulletins on social media, or even feeding the local gossip mill.  Time is on our side, and is an ally for the managers of crisis and personal angst. Time will tell if I need to voice an opinion, or give some wise counsel, and if I do, then the wait will be worthwhile, and the Universe will give me that guidance.  And, I can frame the most appropriate, the most effective action.

Or, I can simply be there, offering support quietly, by my presence, exuding kindness and love and understanding, and offering the balm of friendship and compassion.

Silence, often, becomes the best tool, the most effective fix to the matter at hand. One kind, thoughtful, compassionate soul become an ally, rather than an unwelcome new factor, the volatile instigator of an even larger conflagration.

Simply by holding space, by being the calm in the storm, you can make a better world.

 

5/28/2019

 

Immersed in the Richness of Community Life


 

 

by Neal Lemery

 

 

I found myself in the heart of the richness of my community’s life the other day. Tillamook High School charity drive students were handing out checks to a wide variety of community organizations, funding grants for over twenty community projects and activities.

The money comes from a ten day frenzy of fund raising in February that engaged the entire community.  High school students, along with parents and other community volunteers, pitched in to raise money.  Car washes, dinners, garage sales, a scrap metal drive, donkey basketball, silent auctions, and other events made sure that you have no reason to cook dinner that week, or stay at home on a rainy evening. The high school classes competed with each other, and organized the various events so that every day was filled with tempting meal choices and other activities.

It was also a week of socializing with the rest of the community, reconnecting with old friends, and strengthening our community ties.

“It’s all about relationships,” I heard on numerous occasions.

The fund raising capabilities of these kids is phenomenal, usually raising over $200,000 during the week, astonishing in a rural area of maybe 8,000 people.  Half of the funds are given to the Doernbecher children’s hospital, and half stays in the community. This is an annual affair, and has been going on since the 1950s, when it started as part of the March of Dimes campaign against polio.

The student committee invited community groups to apply for grants, and again, the community reaps the benefits of our hard-working, community-minded youth.

This year, $56,000 was given to local non-profits to support their own charitable activities in the community.  Applicants have to justify how the funds will improve community life.

I gathered with people from other organizations, as students began handing out the checks. We shared our stories with each other, eagerly chatting about where the money would go, how people’s lives were touched.  We are so rich in the ways that we help others, and make a real difference.

I happily received one of the checks, destined to help one of my organizations improve its capacity to serve the community, and to give youth another activity to enrich their lives.  There were smiles all around, as the students connected with us, as we shared the joy of giving back to the community, and building better lives.

“Bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place…”. (David Treuer, The Heart Beat of Wounded Knee)

As we all gathered in front of the high school, we stood united.  In this small town, I didn’t see an unfamiliar face. We had all played a part in the charity drive, and now, we had come together, to share the rewards, to invest back into the community, and build again in service to the common good.

That sense of satisfaction, of common community purpose continued on, as I stood in line at the bank a few minutes later with some of the others who had received checks.

“A special day,” one of them remarked. “A day of giving back to the community, and making a difference.”

This celebration was in sharp contrast to what I’d just seen on the national news, filled with stories of disasters, political discord, and crime. How nice is it, I thought, to be part of building community, rather than hearing of social discontent and chaos.

As the passive observer and a consumer of the national political and cultural scene, I keep wondering what is my role in all of that.  I tire of being the passive witness, the feeling of impotence and paralysis.

Can I be an instrument of change?  Rather than just hear about a problem, I could step up and be a force for making a difference. Yet, most of the organizations that operate nationally, seem to be only wanting my check, or me to sign an electronic petition, rather than invite me to roll up my sleeves and take on a problem, fully engaged, hands on, giving a little of my talent, a little of my sweat and time. I yearn for that sense of connection, and relationship.

That opportunity is right here in front of me, I realized. Here and now is the place where change can and does happen.

Locally, there are ready made roles for all of us.  Our neighbors, our friends, and family are deeply involved in local life, in activities that are changing how we live, providing opportunities and resources for others in our community.  Almost literally outside of my front door, I can be involved, and I can help make a difference in other people’s lives and the health and wellbeing of my community.

I saw that in the smiles of the high school students the other day, their joy a reflection of their own hard work, their own commitment to the community, their satisfaction in applying their own talent, time and sweat into making a real difference, in building better lives and a better place to live for their neighbors.

 

 

5/1/2019

Befriending


 

 

Kindness

Comes in so many forms, so many ways

A smile, a cup of tea,

Reaching out, giving a hand

Listening

Accepting.

 

Together

We honor ourselves and each other

Gifts to share, building community

Bonds, interactions, communion

Union, reciprocity

Strengthening, a weaving together

The whole greater than the parts.

 

Compassion

Understanding the Other, each other

By opening our own hearts

Being open, exchanging, offering

Receiving

Accepting

Enhancing

Uniting.

 

–Neal Lemery

11/29/2018

Living In A Strong Community


Living in a Strong Community

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn’t as individuals. When we pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, we can welcome many people, even those in deep distress, and perhaps help them find self-confidence and inner healing.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

 

I’ve been taking a look at my community, and wondering how we measure up, in these challenging times, when some are wondering if our society is in decline.

 

Here’s a checklist of seven attributes of a healthy community:

  1. Good governance
  2. Walkable, connected, mixed-use character
  3. Parks and gardens
  4. Partnerships
  5. Programming
  6. Neighborhood-responsive schools
  7. Tree culture

–Scott Doyon

 

Being in community is vital to my own mental health and emotional well-being.  Given the continual national stream of tragic events fueled by racism, prejudice, bigotry, and selfishness, I often feel the weight of despair and hopelessness. I am increasingly more sensitive to reaching my limit of how much of that “news cycle” and horror I can be exposed to.

Much of that angst is relieved when I immerse myself in building up my community, and being present with others who are caring, selfless people engaged in taking care of themselves and each other in these turbulent, emotionally exhausting times.

In my town, we are doing it right. I think we get high marks on Scott Doyon’s list of a healthy, engaged community.

In the past three years, the state highway department has funded a major revamping of the traffic pattern (our previously confusing junction of two major highways), narrow downtown streets, and a dilapidated, underused waterfront.

This week, we are celebrating the completion of that project, as well as other efforts by the city and the business community to rejuvenate and invigorate the downtown, making it a welcoming and prosperous town.

Now, we have new sidewalks, a smoother flowing traffic pattern, a town pedestrian plaza, bike paths, a food truck cart center, bike racks, a fresh look in two waterfront parks, and a walkway encouraging people to walk to other parks and attractions.  New bridges span the slough at the north edge of the downtown. New landscaping adds a fresh, inviting look.  The local restaurant scene is vigorous and inviting. Open mics, featuring local musicians and writers, are now the norm.

Downtown merchants have also gotten on board, with renovations, fresh paint, and interesting shops.  We have a number of new downtown events, including a monthly Art Walk, a thriving community art gallery, and a museum which not only showcases local artists, but a continuing schedule of regionally renown speakers and presenters.

 

Community organizations are thriving, and numerous activities are filling up the community calendar with a wide variety of events for every interest. New ideas are being discussed, and plans are underway for even more activities and ways to build a healthier community. We have a “can do” attitude now.

 

Our “Year of Wellness”, a public health collaborative to focus on ways to improve individual and community health, has brought together the entire spectrum of health service agencies, government, and individuals to collaborate on improving public health and a sense of community spirit. We are challenging ourselves to live healthier, more informed lives, and doing it from the ground up.  Grass roots activism at its finest! We’ve decided a year wasn’t long enough for the tasks we identified, and now the work is seen as long term, with increasingly challenging and meaningful goals. Community wellness is now part of our collective experience.

 

The library is spearheading the building of a new downtown park, and library programs are enjoying wide popularity, engaging the community on a variety of experiences and informative activities for all ages.  Public use of the library is setting records.

 

Teachers are developing state of the art educational experiences for students, and we are becoming increasingly well informed about the impact of childhood trauma, domestic violence, hunger, and addiction recovery.

 

The best part of all this is that we have a sense of belonging here.  Each of us is important, and each of us is a valued contributor to the common good, the whole community.  An individual has something unique to offer, and is a valued, unique player in the common effort.  I feel I belong here, and so do all my neighbors.

 

In this town, one person makes the difference, and others listen to their voice, and value their experience, their perspective, and their talents.  And, we have the will power and the courage to take on the difficult, ugly issues that our community, and the nation, has.  Much of the work is hard, and the tasks are daunting at times.  We don’t always achieve 100% success, but we are trying and we see a lot of progress in what we are trying to accomplish. And, that feels really good.

 

In this town, there is hope, and there is a sense of collective purpose. We are committed to be winners, and the changers that create a better world.  Now, we are a town of optimism and determination.

 

Community partnerships are everywhere, knitting together our community fabric in a fresh spirit of resolve and collaboration.  There’s an attitude of “get it done” and pitching in to just do it.

 

As my friends say around town, “Onward!”