Guest opinion: Our community is changing. Let’s make sure no one gets left behind.
There are no more undercurrents anymore.
Everything about life in our small town feels like a tidal wave. Or a giant electrical current buzzing overhead. Come to think of it, it’s both — creating the real-time worry that the supercharged version of dropping the hair dryer into the bathtub is happening around us, every minute. The confluence of pandemic and politics, the impacts, large and small, on our daily routines. And that vibration we feel is the energy of the newly arrived.
Those of us who have been here a year, a decade, a lifetime, know the charms of this stunningly vibrant place are plentiful. Most of our new community members will stay for the long haul. And we’ll need to help them acclimate not only to the opportunities, but the challenges we’re facing.
On a recent morning, my social media feed offered a photo from a friend’s kitchen window — documenting the sudden change to her 35-year morning-coffee-view of a rural paradise. Now, her view included the bones of the first floor of a new home, on the other side of her fence — the second story of which will eradicate the chunk of sky she uses to center herself, to begin her day.
The post begat a chorus of her peers — women and men I admire and respect. We share a dogged passion for truth and justice — and pie breakfasts. (Honestly, I don’t know how they feel about pie breakfasts, but I do know they believe in the pieces of life that connect us to each other.) They spoke unvarnished truth: Our lovely town’s walls are closing in and closing out many of the people whose life and work shape our community.
There isn’t enough smart, affordable housing. Not for senior citizens to age in place. Not for people earning what is — in other places — a living wage. Affordability, in general, is marginalized, even as we talk about it. Regardless of our age and income, we all imagine our ideas will retain value in the place we call home.
Our small-town friendships are significant because we weave together a way of life. In ordinary times we’d be introducing each other to various new arrivals, matching folks with their interests and their new friends. Importantly, giving the new people a line into what community initiatives are under way. Introducing them to roommates, or a seasonal job. Involving them in the PTOs, or Rotary. Some of it happens now on the chat boards, but as with everything on the internet, the nuances are lost. And it’s the nuances — the random cups of coffee, the gathering after a worship service or a school play — where we find a square of solid ground to talk about hard topics.
In this tumultuous phase of life, the days tend to roll over us. Like my friend, I look out the window to create space for what is to come. This time of year, the dawn lights the sky on fire, and often makes the snowfall glisten and glimmer. It’s the doing two things at once that gets me: Everything I treasure about the life I have built here — lies in the way we welcome change and preserve our core.
As we head into a winter on shifting ground, I throw out a challenge: Let us, collectively, allow the weight of our concerns to shift into the shared desire to double down on our investment in the community. To continue to hold space for those voices of influence in our town, the women and men who built so much of the life we enjoy now. To make spaces for the artists and teachers and lift operators and retirees whose lives make our town a community. And to welcome our new neighbors into that conversation.
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