In his last editorial of 2016, Rapid Growth's Publisher Tommy Allen ponders what is happening at the city level as national headlines shock and awe readers.
Last year, as our Uber driver plugged along the city streets of Grand Rapids towards my home, I devised a way to bypass my after-midnight urge to declare my New Year’s resolutions. Having written about resolutions numerous time in the past, I knew the odds of failure were stacked against me. Why engage in that exercise when I knew would need something more creative this year if lasting change was to be my desired outcome?
As I wrote down in my journal the first lines of my thoughts on this new year, I realized I would need to edit my scratchings on paper. What emerged in the end were four words, divided with the pausing breath of a beat in the form of a comma. The vision for my year: Alleviate Suffering, Propagate Joy.
Even as the ink dried, I began to wonder if this resolution dressed up in “conference-speak” clothing would also suffer the same fiery meteoric fate of past New Year’s resolutions.
Looking back almost a year later, I believe, for the most part, that I’ve succeeded with this method — but not without a few bumps along the way.
As I moved through my year, I had many challenges come my way, each asking me to consider a response. I even had requests to engage in activities that, luckily for me, did not apply to my two simple goals. If it didn’t meet the criteria, I would politely decline.
By the time fall ended I was feeling pretty good. Not great, but good with how the year was moving along, despite a few setbacks.
And then I lost my father. I was devastated at his passing, which led me down a path of solitude that only broke once I placed my feet on the soil to stand alongside so many Native Americans who had gathered at Standing Rock.
at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock took place just a few days before the United States election, but what I learned while there would become a reminder of how I could live my life moving forward once I returned home.
Within the Native American culture, it is often discussed how they operate in this world with an understanding that they look back seven generations, where indigenous wisdom is rooted in recent history. But they also look forward seven generations into the future to ensure that they understand they are not living just for the moment in their decision-making.
Suddenly, my little mantra did not feel so grand anymore. It became one that offered good protection for me in how I would interact in this world — but not how my decision would factor into a bigger vision of what has come before or what will come after as a result.
For as I began looking backward and then forward to those spaces in time beyond my reach, I stumbled upon an interview
with Krista Tippett, the radio host of “On Being.”. She reminded me of a book published 20 years ago in 1997, “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron.
Diving back into this book, I stumbled on a passage that really helped me better understand how to apply my guiding statement.
Chodron writes, “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
It is easy to look at the big stuff happening within the immediate and let these items guide one’s vision moving forward, but, in the end, if I have learned anything over these last 10 years at Rapid Growth, and even so since I moved to Grand Rapids in 1981, is that within our present city something remarkable is happening.
Don’t believe me? Then I invite our readers to take some time this break to look at where Rapid Growth’s community of writers and voices have taken us over the last year. Our city is looking so much differently than it did a year ago and even more changed when you look back to the time when we began in 2006. And I am talking about so much more than just the evolving skyline of our city.
The truth is that when I started my year in 2016 with a new vision of how I would address my resolutions, I was in fact simply trying to make sense of it all in a better way that moved beyond what often amounted to the self-improvement goals of these annual iterations.
We are all in this city during a time period of unprecedented growth, and we will experience this expansion through an untold number of different paths to take us on this journey.
But it is the small interactions that happen here, whether through our articles or through simply living, that add up to create those big moments that appear later in our lives.
Moving forward, I may keep my vision statement to remind myself of its power. But, I will also amend it to include guiding principals that remind me things do come together and that they also come apart.
I will try and be better in 2017 in leaning on the indigenous wisdom of others, both old and young, that have been living (or have lived) to assist us in our society perfect whatever has fallen apart back into something beautiful.
It is hard to imagine that a simple Folio biodegradable to-go container from the Creston Brewery could remind me, with its “Hungry for change?” message embossed on the side of it, how a once far-off idea of a totally compostable container was such a difficult thing to come by just a few years ago. Now they are everywhere in places I visit. These are micro changes that add up to big shifts.
Just imagine what a city as diverse as ours can unleash in this world once we start to address the even bigger topics impacting our society. It is possible and within reach if we are hungry for it as a people.
The United States national news headlines might be awash with chaos at the moment as both sides of the aisle sort out the years ahead. But I firmly believe that cities are the keys to our future and provide all of us a sanctuary for new ideas to emerge that will not just solve old problems we are facing in our present but offer us a glimpse into how, when we get it right, we can be certain of a far brighter future.
Today, cities all over our world are becoming strong beta testing centers, with new ideas taking root every day through our collective contribution to see things stay together. Some will fail as others will succeed. This is a given.
We are a city far from perfection. In fact, if I have learned anything from my many journeys around the sun it is this: a life committed to perfecting our world through service to our community is still one of the best paths to choose. I believe I have discovered such a city where big changes are happening at an astonishing rate. The trick is for us is to be present and understand where we are on the spectrum of such unprecedented change.
The Future Needs All of Us