Sunday, September 16, 2007
Steamboat Springs A few weeks ago, one of our local columnists wrote about a most interesting idea. He said he didn't want to become the town grouch, complaining about traffic, construction and waiting in lines. Instead, Tom Ross decided to begin a new way of approaching his days with "random acts of kindness." From the looks of things, folks have been practicing what he suggested, and it's working: a driver stops to let another car into a line of traffic, a man picks up a bit of trash left on the Post Office floor, a woman talks to a stranger at the grocery store.
Something more happened the other day, when traffic was moving at a rapid pace between stop lights on Lincoln Avenue. Everyone was hurrying along the highway when a siren blasted from somewhere behind us. Cars actually moved over to the right lane and came to a stop as the fire engine sped past with lights flashing and horn blaring.
When did this new respect for emergency vehicles begin? I used to be the only one who stopped, and I remember receiving hostile and critical stares from other drivers. Something has changed, and it's not only in people's response to sirens. Two burning towers and a plane crash in Pennsylvania have a lot to do with an increasing awareness, and not only as it pertains to fire engines. Instead of post-traumatic stress, some of us have gained what might be called residual awakening.
Thinking back to a mid-day explosion in the Good News Building on Fifth Street right here in Steamboat Springs, I remember that everyone in town stepped up to help in some way. Doctors and nurses left Routt Memorial to accomplish triage in the parking lot of the courthouse; folks called in to radio stations offering temporary homes for families and pets while city utilities were turned off. It was an amazing demonstration of what our community is about.
We don't have to experience an emergency to know how to act and what to do, but seeing what happened in New York City served to remind us what it is we want to preserve, what it is we want to build. That new awareness is spreading, a residual awakening.
It's evident in conversations around tables at the bookstore, in newspapers, and in City Council meetings, but no one has yet identified the mainstay of this new awareness. Various groups have charged onto front pages, each seeking a particular agenda.
One wants a $34 million center where families can "recreate" together. Another wants mandatory building restrictions that "preservate" an old Steamboat Springs. Words buzz among us: activate; enervate; elevate; decorate.
If recognized, the actual connection among all those proposals could resolve the divisiveness that stymies Steamboat Springs. New awareness, that residual awakening which began with Sept. 11, 2001, prompts a deeply felt longing for the small-town closeness that brought many of us to the valley. Those who grew up here hope to keep what they now recognize as a strong and encouraging support system.
The key to accomplishing that goal is as simple as moving to the right lane at the sound of a fire engine's siren. To grasp the one element that creates community, each of us merely needs suppose that truck might be headed for our own house. Is it "a random act of kindness" to treat others in a way that we ourselves like to be treated?
Maybe we can use the lessons learned from that September day to "accentuate the positive" and thus make our community the place we want it to be.
Freiberger is a writer who has lived in Routt County's Elk River Valley since 1982.