I am often inspired by stories on NPR. It’s a family joke, as I start virtually every conversation with the phrase “I heard on NPR today…” Earlier this year, Morning Edition resident poet Kwame Alexander and host Rachel Martin proposed writing their way out of the unprecedented events of the past year, to imagine a better future. Their crowdsourced poem This is Our Dream was created from 2,500 listener responses. My favorite line from the poem goes like this: “I dream a world where a bridge is arching over troubled waters, built on a foundation of truth. Where children grow up learning only one kind of division, the long kind.” A poem about hope and promise, and yet also a joke about math. Perfect.
In discussions with my Athenian cohort, I got the idea to create a crowdsourced poem about our cities and towns. Heaven knows we could use some hope for the future. My goal is to create an aspirational poem – not one about what we like, or what we wish for, but what we long for.
The choice of the word long is intentional. The verb “long” is defined as feeling “a strong desire or craving, especially for something not likely to be attained” (Merriam Webster). Not likely, but still possible. A sense of longing conjures a more aspirational lens.
In my mind’s eye I can travel the streets of my Town. I know intuitively where the DPW crews are working today, what time the school buses roll in any given neighborhood, and when the “walk” phase will cycle around at every traffic signal. I know a lot more (to be completely honest) about the Town where I work than the one where I live. I have a lot of hopes and dreams for this Town.
Our friend Peter Kageyama writes extensively about love for our cities. As he states in For the Love of Cities, “When we love something, we cherish it, we protect it, we do extraordinary things for it.” So what about you? What do you long for in your city or town? The one where you live, work, or manage? The one you cherish? The one that you would do extraordinary things for?
I long for a Town where people focus more on what we have accomplished, with pride and amazement, and focus less on what remains to be done, with frustration and criticism. I long for a city where people come together to meet real challenges with resolve and good humor, and a willingness to work collaboratively.
I have started asking people what they long for in their cities. Early submissions, not surprisingly, reflect the national mood. If I had to predict, I would say the poem will include a lot of longing for public civility. I challenge you, Relentless Practice readers, to send me your one sentence dream for your city – what you long for. With your help, one day we will open our inboxes to find the joy and inspiration that is our shared dream for our cities – in poem form. And then we can turn to making those dreams happen. Once we can take off these masks.
Let’s practice, longingly.