My website, America Comes Alive!, is dedicated to celebrating the greatness of this country, but the headlines of the weekend were making this difficult.
At a time when our most serious thoughts should be reserved for gratitude to our veterans and those currently serving our country, our attention has been drawn to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"These are America's wetlands," said Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon before Congress last week as he fought back tears. Most of us could easily cry along with him. What's going to happen to local residents affected by the spill? To the fish and wildlife? To the workers down in the area helping with clean-up? To our economy? Even with threat of a criminal suit against them, we know somehow BP won't pay for all the costs incurred.
Congress has yet to finish wrestling with badly needed financial reform, and they haven't begun on immigration discussions. Is anything going well?
As I thought about how to feel more optimistic about the country -- and renew my energy for my website -- my thoughts turned to my experiences of the last few months. I began to see that if I "thought local," there was cheering news.
Backing up for just a moment, I was raised in Pueblo, Colorado by get-it-done parents who were never daunted by having to pick up where others left off. My mother worked hard to obtain funding for a community arts center; later she put that same energy into revitalizing downtown with a Riverwalk. My father ran a local insurance company that encouraged employees to take paid time off for volunteer work while he personally served for many years on the water board, perhaps one of the most important community boards in any town in the West.
With that background, I started looking around my area in suburban New York. Our government representatives are often viewed poorly, but I have observed firsthand how hard Congresswoman Nita Lowey--who originally began working for change as a PTA member and president--and her staff work.
New York State Assemblymember George Latimer has voluntarily reduced his own state salary in recognition of our state's fiscal crunch, and many of us in the community actually suspect Latimer and Westchester County Legislator Judy Myers have cloned themselves. Both these public servants appear at more local activities than one can imagine---and still get their work done. No amount of salary--particularly theirs--could justify their tireless efforts on citizens' behalf.
The next people who came to mind as inspirational were those I have met through a Westchester for Change, a grassroots group made up of community dynamos who are making a difference.
I thought, too, of my friend in Rye Brook whose son is among the many enlisting in the military and will start boot camp this summer. I tip my hat to him and know that every family in those circumstances needs a stiff upper lip as they watch sons and daughters go.
And then I thought of my research trip to Frederick, Maryland and the incredibly knowledgeable people I met each day who are dedicated to preserving an America we can love. Park service employees may as well have Ph.Ds in their topics... they are so good at telling the American story.
I think, too, of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, and the dentist, Dr. Gordy Dammann, whose avid collecting of medical items dating to the 1860s provided the basis to get this fascinating museum up and running.
Next, my memory lights up at the thought of George Lewis, a veterinarian, who spent many years working at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland. Now he cheerfully has dedicated himself to working to raise money to restore the Catoctin Aqueduct. George could make anything interesting. (Next posting I'll tell you about saving this aqueduct and why it matters.)
With these "local heroes" fresh in my mind, I'm feeling better. I'm hoping that you, too, will find hope in thinking of the local people in your community who do so much--maybe it's you.
But before forgetting about the oil spill, there is one other thing each of us can do: conserve energy. We live in a market-driven country, and the only reason BP was in the Gulf drilling ever-deeper for more oil is because we're buying it.
Make certain your next car is fuel-efficient, conserve on heating and air conditioning as much as you can, and walk or take public transportation some of the time. If all of us vote with our wallets, business and government will hear.
In the meantime, keep telling your representatives that you want an ethical government that looks forward--we need to take care of our people, improve our decaying infrastructure, and focus on what we can do to make things better for our children's children.
And if you want some heartening reminders of our admirable heritage, bookmark my site, www.americacomesalive.com. It is guaranteed to make you feel better about our country.