To empower a community, it must be nourished.
I don’t mean to wax philosophical. The theoretical limit of my philosophy involves more piscatorial pursuits than public service. I’m more likely to solve mysteries and discover epiphanies on a lake or stream than develop Descartian ideals.
But communities flourish on health, not growth. We hear so much about growth. We’ve heard it for so long we’re pretty much numb to it.
Certainly decades ago, local legend has it, the proposal of building an "oil center" in this city was soundly defeated by the landed gentry. That oil center allegedly was built in Lafayette, and a supposed golden opportunity passed us by.
The Oil Center in Lafayette, while not a collapsed, bedraggled ruin, transformed into something else when the industry suffered in the mid-1980s. Is it possible that, had it been built here, it may have created a vacuum that would have sucked more from Franklin than what was when the oil boom ended? Perhaps the powers-that-be of the time didn’t want the oil center here for reasons of their own, but sometimes blessings can be disguised, and curses appear fair and beautiful.
The Catch-22 of a prospering community is that it often grows, and in so doing loses much of the charm that catapulted growth. It’s a fine balancing act to keep the two.
So the impetus should not be for growth, though there’ll be a certain amount of that regardless. Our concentration should be on the health of the community.
The Doors once crooned, "I been down so long, it looks like up to me," and I often thought that they must have been visiting west St. Mary when Jim Morrison wrote that verse (except he was dead and gone before this area got so down, so forget that theory…see why I don’t try philosophy?)
It is sometimes difficult for people who are part of such a tight-knit community to see the forest for the trees. It’s easier to say we’ll never amount to a hill of beans in this community than be disappointed when our hopes are dashed.
Never mind that communities just like us are excelling and nourishing themselves all over the state and nation. Somehow, they looked around from "down" and realized it wasn’t quite as "down" as they thought, it just needed a good meal, some refreshing lemon iced tea and in some cases a dose or two of castor oil just to get things cleaned out properly.
You feed a community not with bread and meat, but enthusiasm and involvement. Putting aside the kicks in the teeth all those decades and deciding to take control of the future; the ne’er speak-wells and complainers be damned. They can huddle in their homes with no lights on and complain about how miserable things are while right outside their windows the community is coming out of a coma and stretching its muscles long disused, opening its eyes and seeing the sun.
I’ve found that positive thinking and enthusiasm are either wildly contagious or infinitely repulsive, depending on who’s around. Have no doubt whatsoever that the people who took the first baby steps to grow their communities in other places were certainly recipients of many a laugh-in-the-face, shake of the head, condemnation, accusation and a whole bucket load of difficulties. But one by one, others joined in and put aside whatever personality differences they might have had and did what had to be done to make a healthy, vibrant community.
Frustrating? Oh, and how! But let me tell you what I find more frustrating: Spending the last 20 years watching family businesses that had thrived for decades close down; seeing entire families move from here, never to be heard from again; seeing our children move away and brag they’ll never come back to this podunk place; seeing our population decline and, with it, a shift in the business face from mom and pop shops and grocers to check cashers, rent-to-owns, big-box stores and fly by night con artists.
Nothing I will encounter in nourishing this community could ever be more frustrating than all that. The biggest obstacles you face will be stubbornness, arrogance and indifference. All easily surmountable, because enthusiasm is contagious, and there’s more of you than there are of them. You just don’t realize it yet.
What’s at stake here is our future. Certainly we can continue along like we have been, and west St. Mary will persist. The courthouse will always provide a base for the services businesses and retail to some extent. The rejuvenation of the oil industry has made an impact on the area as a whole, but we certainly don’t want to put all our eggs in that basket again…the bottom rotted out of it on us once before.
What you can do is get involved and do something to nourish your community. Put in place the things that will not only be healthy for our own, but bring the people who will add their bread and meat to the table. You’ll see us grow, in health I mean, and we’ll be a rich community again. Because maybe the oil industry could be taken away, and maybe the big box stores could come in and take away our neighbors’ businesses and homes and futures, but what we as a community have to offer is firmly imbedded: Our talent, our architecture, our natural resources and ourselves.