Yesterday my wife and I were driving through town going to a friends house to pick up firewood for a Middle School bonfire, and as we made our way down Rt. 50 out of town toward the Grand River, the fairground was teeming with excitement and energy. Animals were being led around by children, sweaty men were putting the final touches on pitching massive tents, vendors were leveling their mobile shops, "4-H"er's were mucking stalls and spreading beds of straw, and campers were lining the fields preparing for a week of sticky, humid sleep. Scores of bustling and hustling humans were frantically darting around like time-pressed ants working around the clock for the deadline of opening day. It was a sight for sore eyes.
I think I've unabashedly admitted before that I'm a farmer-at-heart and love to see the old-fashioned past-times of the simple agrarian life celebrated with vim, vigor and value. I can't wait to take the girls through the barns breathing in the pungent aroma of horse manure and petting those elegant creatures of power and beauty. I'm even looking forward to the sheep, pig, rabbit and chicken barns, though horse manure is in a league of its own as it relates to smell.
At the same time, you can't make it anywhere in our community without noticing the "Pink Arrow" craze that has officially begun. This is the 4th year of a community-wide cancer awareness weekend that culminates in a Lowell Football Game where the players take the field in custom made pink uniforms and then promptly tromp on some sorry team, making sport of them like a bloodthirsty gladiator. Shirts and banners are hanging on every light pole in the historic downtown district, storefronts are covered with posters and window paint, bumper stickers cover every other car you see drive by, people are wearing their pink t-shirts of the last three years almost frothing at the mouth for September 9th. The rabid excitement I'm sure almost scares outsiders, but this as well, is the genius of Lowell.
There is a spirit here that can be felt as you crest the Grand River bridge and see the King Milling grain bins and towers welcoming you with opens arms. In Latin is it called the "genius loci" - "they spirit of place". There is a provincial pride that dwells in the hearts of our people. We don't just live here, we love here. Here means something to us. Here is where we belong. Here is what is beloved. There is "spirit of place" that fills the streets and writes itself up the landscape and the cityscape. Even a passerby who is just driving through recognizes that this place takes itself seriously and life personally. We don't just use this town for its utilitarian purposes of providing the basic essentials for survival, we treat it as you would a home that has a heartbeat which requires investment, nourishment and encouragement. We want this place to have an irresistible spirit of hospitality, welcoming in the stranger as an angel, the outsider as adopted family. At least this is what I see and believe and want. Worse than bad, I want it.
I noticed Canfield plumbing investing in their building by bringing in a craftsman to replace old bricks and usher in "restorative masonry". Whenever I see this investment in preserving the old, my heart is filled with exceeding joy. I know that it costs more in some ways to preserve the old than to just tear it down and replace it with cheap pressboard, cheap sheetrock and cheap corrugated medal. "We pave paradise and put up a parking lot" as the song says. Or in this case, "We tear down a historic edifice and put up a pole barn." No one is thinking that it has a life-expectancy of 15 years before it will go to pot and start to rot because most people are thinking about economy and expediency, not history and mystery. I'm thankful for those glimpses of sacrifice I see in this town to preserve what is hallowed instead of replacing it with what is, in my humble opinion, hollow.
Heidi and I sat at Flat River Grill on a date last night sharing a sandwich and watching the sun go down over the river. The ducks were turning into slow moving silhouettes floating gently with the slow moving current, their heads tucked backwards under their wings like a boy pulling his pillow over his head to keep the light out of his eyes. The cool breeze moved through the patio almost giving you a chill. The lights on the showboat turned on and a couple guys walked by with fishing poles (Ben Boomers and Jeff Nemeier) and tackle boxes. Lovers walked hand in hand on the sidewalks along the river pointing and talking and smiling. Groups of friends shared stories and wine at nearby tables. It was the stuff of sappy novels, but it was real.
And as we drove home, I realized afresh why I love our little town. Because everyone lives here of all races, rags or riches, building companies or digging ditches, from minimum wager employees to seven-figure employers, from simple farmers to city slickers, carnies on one side of the road for the County Fair, cancer awareness on the other side of the road at Gilda's club...we are all different, but we are one. It is this solidarity that gives us the "genius loci" that marks us as unique.
But we mustn't think this will continue on without our active participation. We must stay engaged and create redemption and affect change right around us. We can't sit idly by hoping someone else with "keep 'r goin'" and "get 'r done"...it will die in a generation with that kind of degeneration. We must insert ourselves into the messiness creating order out of chaos. In our marriages, our families, our neighborhood, our region and our city.
So I'd like to make a toast to Lowell. Long live the spirit of this great community built on the selfless sacrifice of many who take great pains to ensure our town will be stay homey without feeling homely. Thank you for the many who lay down their lives so that people like me can drive into Lowell and feel gratitude well up saying with me, "I don't just live here, I love here." I intend to join the cause of keeping this spirit alive and leading others to do the same.