I’ve been busy lately. Or maybe I’m just always busy. Suddenly I find my mind racing & my life passing through it like a runaway train! So many thoughts, causes, issues, ideas, tasks, deadlines, people and commitments swarm in and out of my head that I often just sit and do nothing in a state of overwhelmed paralysis. I have learned how to say “no” to things, but some things just simply need to be addressed; and sometimes, after saying “no” several times, one just has to get involved. This was one of those weeks.
I live within an overlay along one of the 3 most heavily traveled arteries in my town. Our situation is unique due to the fact that we are an “unincorporated” part of the original town, our community still has a Homeowners Association, and our original neighborhood has been dissected over the last 57 years by growth, traffic, bad zoning laws, and short-sighted city planning. For the last 10-15 years others in my new neighborhood (I moved here in the spring of 2003) have battled the county and each other over outdated zoning & land use laws that have kept the people along this busy thoroughfare prisoners in their own homes. What used to be a quiet two-lane road has become a five-lane main artery between an interstate highway, the turnpike, and a main north-south highway.
So, when my poor neighbor who lives on the corner of one of the busiest intersections along this drag asked if I could be at yet another public hearing about changing the land-use laws (she’s asked me at least 6 other times over the last 4 years), I just couldn’t say no anymore. The hearing was Thursday night at 6 p.m. I had never been to this kind of hearing before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was quite sure, however, that I was again pushing myself out of my “comfort zone” and that I was a little nervous.
I had prepared and typed up a statement over the Christmas break, made some edits Wednesday night (after a 12 hour day at school!), and timed it at about 5 minutes. When I arrived at the County Commissioners Chambers I was surprised at the size of the crowd and informal atmosphere. At 6:00 informality quickly gave way to a more formal tone laced with legal terms and acronyms like CO, CN, and CG. “Holy Cow!” I thought, “I’m in over my head, and if I make a statement I’ll probably make a fool of myself!”
As in my approach to College Algebra (ich!) I focused on what was being said and got my head in the game. It was scary (in a funny way) how easily I began to understand just what was at stake. When the floor was opened to public opinion I stayed seated and listened. After about 4 or 5 people I jumped up with my prepared statement and got into the line that had formed along the left wall. Although the information on their website said statements are limited to 5 minutes, the Chair said to limit them to 3. I prepared myself to be cut short.
My turn! Oh, of course I was shaking & my voice trembled at first! After the first paragraph, however, I found my voice! I made eye contact with each Commissioner throughout my delivery and, although I read much faster than I wanted to, I managed to maintain my tone. At one point I realized that they were not going to stop me after 3 minutes, and I felt like everyone in the room was really listening to what I had to say. When I finished I was blown away by the applause from the other supporters in the room.
Both measures passed the vote with one dissenting vote. That Commissioner explained his “no” vote and made eye contact with me several times. It felt to me like he was communicating more than just his concerns and his perspective on the proposal. It was as if he were saying, “I hear what you’re saying, and I respect your opinion.” I also felt like he understood the love and concern we all have for the land, this community, and the environment, not just ourselves, our homes and our desire for less noise, soot, and traffic.
This experience has filled me with many more thoughts that will keep my mind racing for weeks to come. The next hearing is February 5th and I’ve already been asked to attend and lend support. I’m not sure if I can make it. There is a lot on my plate at school, some family is visiting next month, I have an art event coming up, and I really want to help the CIW in March. OH! And my garden needs tending, the dishes are piling up & my prayer-time is waning! I need to use my new-found voice wisely or I may lose my voice!