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!”

 

Renewal


 

 

Before me stood only a few–

Second step up, paint can and brush,

High above the entry way, up where no one would look,

Except we few painters, every generation or two.

 

I am a chosen one, honored to stand in this place, the air still, dusty with time —

adding a new color to the layers of time.

Those who came here before me  —

Their paint splattered fingers on mine, gripping the brush,

whisper bits of history to me in the hot afternoon air.

 

Some sixty years ago, the painter before me dreamed with turquoise,

Covering up the brown of the Depression, and the

Burnt orange of origin, back in 1912.

My turn now, renewal, out of new dreams, an old building.

 

He, too, thought of this place, its stories, as he dipped his brush.

How it came to be, out of the dreams of farmers and loggers.

A place to dance on a Saturday night,

Seeing friends, and sharing a meal,

Simply being together, maybe falling in love,

Building lives.

 

Since then, only spiders and a few flies, and dust,

The still air and silence of the old hall, broken by the rumbling of log trucks,

Milk trucks, and cars on the road nearby —

Daily lives, generations lived, driving by the Grange.

 

The first one, a carpenter, and his helpers —

Farmers, loggers, maybe a store clerk  —

Built this place with calloused hands.

Then the painters, each standing where I am, brush in hand.

Their voices now, in the stillness:

My turn now, to be its steward.

 

Standing on the second step, history in the layers,

I am number five,

Each one writing the same poem,

Hoping I’d show up

With fresh paint.

 

—Neal Lemery, August 6, 2018

 

The Day of the Moon


 

 

Everyone was calling it an eclipse, and this otherwise ordinary Monday turned into a holiday, where all we were expected to do was be present and enjoy looking at the drama in the morning sky above us.

 

Monday — this Middle English word literally means Day of the Moon. So it was indeed Moon’s Day, a perfect day for an eclipse.

 

Through the morning clouds, thinning in the strong summer light, the sun and the moon moved closer, and kissed. They danced to some heavenly song unknown to we Earthlings, and held each other closer. Unseen forces were at play, and the primitive, uncivilized within me grew afraid. The sun was being eaten alive.

 

I’m sure my ancestors thought that heavenly sorcery was afoot, when they stared up at the sky on rare, unpredicted long ago days and watched the gods making love, or eating one another, while the Earth grew oddly cold and dark in the middle of the day, eclipsing.

 

There’s that funny word: Eclipse. In ancient Greek, the word means abandonment. I’m sure the birds in my yard felt abandoned, as they took to the trees at what seemed the untimely end of the day. I felt abandoned, too, maybe even getting a sense of the Apocalypse.

 

Astronomers and the more technical among us would call it an occultation and a syzygy.

 

Syzygy – a word even more fun to say than occultation. It means the alignment of three heavenly bodies.

 

Eclipse. Syzygy.   Neither one fit well into a poem, not even a haiku, or an iambic pentameter rhyme.

 

And, eclipse, what rhymes with that? Like its ancient meaning, I soon abandoned the thought of writing a poem with the word on this Day of the Moon, the day the moon ate the sun for brunch.

 

I looked on, as the clouds thinned, the August sky its traditional blue, the ground warming in a summer’s day. Soon, the dance dimmed the morning light, until it was nearly dark, and an evening chill came up on us. Birds quieted and found their nightfall perch, and the summer breeze died to an almost deathly silence. My watch spoke its usual sun time speak, but then, not following the rules of this Moon Day occultation, this Syzygenarian time.

 

Everything was out of order. The usual reliability of the sun’s methodical walk across the summer sky, a thing I scarcely pay attention to, was seriously out of whack.

 

Indeed, I was truly eclipsed — abandoned.

 

Others in my tribe wanted to gather, to come to this heavenly party with lawn chairs and cold beers, and noisy laughter. I, instead, craved the solitude, the eerie silence, as I peered into the sky, watching this periodic, yet rarely experienced, silent meeting.

 

This time and place, was only reserved for Earthlings, on our little planet, third rock from the sun. We were being eclipsed, finding ourselves in heavenly occultation.

 

It was Syzygy day, an alignment, yet also we were abandoned. World order, even the order of the solar system, was crumbling before my very eyes.

 

High above, the lovers embraced, the moon hiding nearly all of the sun’s light from us, as a false night grew darker. Only the summer’s blue midday sky above, and the sliver of sun told us this was not night, but a rare heavenly embrace. Or was it murder?

 

Light reflected in a bucket of water turned into diamonds, and I snapped a photo. Later on, I looked at the photo, noticing the diamonds on the water were really a cluster of tiny black and white crescents, images of the heavenly dance above.

 

More sorcery, more midmorning magic, this Moon’s Day. Like the neighbor’s dogs, I wanted to bark and howl, hoping that would bring back the sun.

 

On it went, until the moon moved away, inch by celestial inch, until once again, the two orbs moved further apart, teaching us the celestial geometry of spheres, the amazement of heavenly bodies in motion, perspective, and proportion, our dependence on the sun’s seemingly eternal warmth and light.

 

Birds flew, and the ground warmed, summer’s light again appearing, as if this was just a usual day.

 

Humility, insignificance, timelessness, the lessons for this day, the sense of wonderment of things and doings not human. The universe teaching me again, how it can dance.

 

–Neal Lemery 8/26/17

Taking Non Violent Action


“Non Violent Action”. I came across that phrase today, quietly found in an article in the midst of all the news of violence and political dystopia.

 

How do I respond? I speak up, I voice my opinions, I keep informed. People have invited me to march, write letters, sign petitions. But is that really engaging me, really making a difference?

 

I believe I can do more.

 

I try to give back to my community. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself, and help others. And when we learn to work together, we change ourselves, our neighborhood, and, eventually, the world.

 

I’m helping to start a non-profit foundation to improve local parks. Working with others, maybe we will build a trail, help someone to experience nature, find some inner peace, connect with the world.

 

I’m helping to set up an art gallery to support local artists and bring art to the heart of my town. We are teaching art to kids, and planning a mural to brighten the downtown. I need to make art, too. Creating is part of me, and essential to a balanced, healthy life.

 

I’m helping other master gardeners in a variety of community projects, teaching each other and others about gardening and scientific inquiry and curiosity.

 

I play in a community band. We help each other be better musicians, and we’re playing at a cancer charity event this summer. Every week, we play and laugh and build a better community.

 

There’s a groundswell of community engagement going on. People volunteering, initiating projects and events, and helping others better their lives. They cheer me on and I cheer them on. Together, we are moving ahead and taking non violent action to change the world, one person at a time.

 

 

 

Neal Lemery 6/5/2017

Building Community


Building Community

Takes time.

Time for coffee with a friend, time to say hi on the street,

Time in the grocery store to ask how someone is doing,

Time to listen, and have that five minute conversation, and

Not worry about the to do list, the errands yet to be run.

 

Building community

Is giving someone else the credit, get the award,

Have the idea you had become theirs,

Letting someone work through the process and stumble

When you could do it twice as fast, knowing that they are learning

And will be proud of their accomplishment when the work is done, and to

Know we will all be better off because of that.

 

Building community

Is teaching skills and quietly providing tools

Helping someone grow in confidence and pride

While you stand back, and just coach, mentor, applaud,

Brag about them to others about how they are growing.

 

Building community

Is letting the gossip stop with you, not passing it on,

Not finding something to criticize, or mock, or disparage

And instead, to praise, to applaud, to find the good in something,

And let the flowers bloom in someone else’s yard,

To quietly weed when no one else is looking, and let someone else

Take all the credit.

After all, don’t we just want the flowers to bloom?

 

Building community

Is to keep smiling, to praise, to recognize the good in someone,

To remind yourself that you haven’t walked that mile in someone else’s

Shoes, that you don’t really know all of their story,

And that we are all on a journey

Together.

 

–Neal Lemery 5/16/2017

I Choose To Build


 

I can choose to do nothing, to embrace the status quo, and not examine my own thinking, my own, old ways of doing things. Or, I can be the wrecking ball, the sour voice of discontent when new ideas and new ways come my way.

 

Or, I can be the builder, using the solid, time tested materials and ways that have worked in the past, and incorporate the new energies, the new ideas, and make things better.

 

My choice.

 

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” — attributed to Eldridge Cleaver.

 

My community is going through a lot of change now. Our downtown traffic pattern is being completely revamped, and the streets and sidewalks are torn up. The usual routines and paths are disrupted, and our city bird is the construction crane. Construction worker orange and raincoats is the new fashion statement.

 

I can curse the detours, the mud, the mess, or I can look through that and see the beginnings of the new town plaza, the spots for new street trees, and the better traffic flow that will come from this.

 

I choose to build, to make stronger, to help others on their own path, so that they can achieve their dreams, and to find their path a little easier.

 

And, I can join the voices embracing the new energies, the vitality of a prosperous, active downtown area. I can be part of that, and be a builder.

 

I’ve done my share of whining about what is lacking in my home town. But, I am choosing to be a builder, not a destroyer, a part of the solutions and not part of the problems.

 

To that end, I’ve helped organize and host a monthly open mic downtown on Saturday nights, providing a performance space for writers, musicians, and other artists. Part of that work is joining others to bring gallery space for artists downtown, and promote the creative arts.

 

I’m a master gardener and have helped educate myself and others on sustainable gardening and educating the community about being better stewards of the land. I’ve nurtured and planted community garden space.

 

I’m working on a foundation to help fund improvements to local parks and recreation spaces.

 

And, I’ve spoken out in favor of our community library, and worked on the campaign to renew its local funding.

 

I’m not alone. This community is on the move, and change is on the wind. New ideas, new projects are everywhere. Nearly seventy of my neighbors just returned from a ten day trip to China, having new experiences, learning about another part of the world, and coming home with new ideas and a new international perspective.

 

Today is Poem In Your Pocket Day, which encourages us to share an inspirational poem. Here’s my choice:

 

The Bridge Builder

 

BY WILL ALLEN DROMGOOLE (1860-1934)

 

An old man going a lone highway,

Came, at the evening cold and gray,

To a chasm vast and deep and wide.

Through which was flowing a sullen tide

The old man crossed in the twilight dim,

The sullen stream had no fear for him;

But he turned when safe on the other side

And built a bridge to span the tide.

 

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,

“You are wasting your strength with building here;

Your journey will end with the ending day,

You never again will pass this way;

You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,

Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

 

The builder lifted his old gray head;

“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,

“There followed after me to-day

A youth whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm that has been as naught to me

To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;

He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

 

Anthology of Verse, 1931

 

Change is all around me. I could choose to be the stick in the mud, struggling against the tide, holding fast to the old, the familiar. Or, I could be part of the change, going with the flow, being one with the river; and embracing the change.

 

The old ways can be comforting, certainly familiar. Yet, will they be successful, meaningful as the world, as my community changes?

 

“The civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral and spiritual environment in which is finds itself.” (Leon Megginson, 1963. quoted by Thomas Friedman, Thank You For Being Late, 2016, p. 298)

 

I can be the bridge builder, the advocate for a better community, or I can be the stick in the mud, and let the tide move against me, leaving me rotting in the muck of the past, as the world passes by.

 

—Neal Lemery, 4/27/2017

Tunings


We all need to tune ourselves and our musical instruments, to the key that best expresses our deepest emotions.

In the 1830s, cattle were brought to Hawaii, and turned loose. Soon, cowboys were needed to keep them out of the taro and sugar cane fields.

Mexican cowboys, (vaqueros, or in Hawaiian, paniolo), introduced the guitar to Hawaiians. They tuned their guitars in the Spanish style, which is still our standard guitar tuning. Hawaiians called the cowboys paniolo, Hawaiians loved the guitars, a new experience for a culture which had never seen stringed instruments.

When the paniolo left, they gave their guitars to their new Hawaiian friends.

However, they didn’t have instructions to tune them as the vaqueros did. New tunings, called “slack key”, pleasant to Hawaiian ears, came about along with new chord fingerings. New melodies and rhythms, expressive of the beauty and culture of Hawaii, emerged.

Their guitars became a part of their lives, the harmonies of the strings in harmony with their music and their community.

The young men I mentor are looking for their own harmonies, their own expressions. How do they tune their own lives, so that they can play their own melodies? They strive to find the chords to their own life songs.

They have plenty to sing about, giving voice to their emotions and experiences on their journeys.

Like the Hawaiians, each of them is finding their own tunings, looking for the right tension on the string to reflect their souls, striving for their own harmony.

Without tension, there would be no music played on a guitar, and without each string having its own unique sound, the songs would not find their own voice.

And, without their own challenges and questions about their lives, these young men would not be giving voice to their own songs, finding the chords and rhythms that are leading them into brighter days and a renewed appreciation of their own souls and dreams.

These young men, these modern day paniolo, are bringing order to their own cattle, and their own guitars, each with their own special slack key tunings, and melodies and rhythms unique to their own, newly focused and directed lives.

–Neal Lemery 2/7/16