Empty Nesters have been immersed in politics for so long, they may have forgotten the magic of the American system. A good neighbor reminds Steve what it is all about.
Waco City Hall. Photo Credit: Steve Howen.
Photo Credit: Manu Schwender.

There are far too many ways to categorize people these days. Labels drive our politics as politics drives our lives. The tendency to substitute tribal affiliation for reasoned discourse leads to scenes like those in our nation’s capitol this weekend with the mere presence of the other side qualifying as an invitation to riot. Against that backdrop, I am loathe to add one more category, but I am going to to do so because how we answer this fundamental question will write the history not yet recorded. The trait does not describe race, gender, orientation, religious belief, party affiliation, age or income. The one personal characteristic I want to know about everyone I meet is simple: half full or half empty?

Two quotes sum it up for me:

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

— Helen Keller

Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.

— Dalai Lama XIV

From an Empty Nester perspective, I worry that optimism is a young man’s game. Card players say it always the “bad beats” you remember. Driven football coaches tell us that the agony of losing compels their fanatical dedication much more so than the elation of winning. It seems inevitable that as the scars from years of living accumulate, our attitudes and our actions will reflect pain more than hope.

Reading the opinion pieces and listening to the commentary from the chattering class provides plenty of fodder to support that hypothesis. We are either a Darwinian society where the rich accumulate gold-plated toilets off the labor of unfortunate serfs or a nation of ne’er-do-wells content to rely on Uncle Sam for our sustenance. The outcome of the recent election was going to tip us one way or the other if the “other guy” won. So it is impossible that the other guy could win. Despair is in the air.

The neighbors. Photo Credit DillonMeeK.com

Against that despair I hold a picture in my mind of the house three doors down from me with the new neighbors, only a couple of months into owning their castle. The house was recently redone and shouts Americana. I am certain that somebody from Ralph Lauren cast the young family who now reside there. It was almost perfect.

And then it was perfect. Late this summer we passed by and saw the dad trying to install a children’s swing under the front yard tree. The problem being that the tree had no branches anywhere near the ground. Things looked grim. Although an optimist and not someone prone to giving up on dreams, my response would have been on the order of getting a refund for the swing. It clearly was not going to work. But a week later when we walked by again, somehow the swing was there, perfectly level and attached to a branch 25 feet off the ground. I am not really sure how he did it, but the dad made sure the picture was complete.

It is a happy scene, an indication that the American dream remains within reach for the next generation. What fuels my optimism, however is that tomorrow the swing hanger will take the oath as Waco’s next mayor. I am pretty sure that Mayor Deavers will not need to be carried out of Waco City Hall, grimly clinging to the awesome power that comes with the job. So at least locally we will have the peaceful transition of power that befits the world’s greatest democracy. Maybe America can follow Waco’s lead.

I digress. I do not know Dillon Meek well. Just polite hellos and short conversations. I have no idea about his party affiliation or if he even has one. Beyond the swing hanging, however, I have observed a few things.

First, the Meeks go to bed absurdly early. At age 59, I still do not have my life together enough to get everything done I need to at a reasonable hour. That lack of organizational ability leads to late night exercise walks. As we finish, the Meek household is buttoned up and quiet. Despite the fact that he has a full-time job and was running for mayor, he can follow the “early to bed, early to rise” adage..

Photo Credit: Sporlab

Second, I would take Dillon against the field if I had to guess who was homecoming king at his high school. He owns an authentic charisma that makes you believe he could score the winning touchdown and protect the weird freshman from bullies.

Third, and most important, Dillon does not profess to have all the answers. Our one substantive policy discussion touched on the homeless. Urban officials likely do no face a thornier problem. Homelessness is a failure of society; a failure that creates even more problems. Against out typical understanding, however, many of the homelessness cannot be motivated to better their situation, even if that just means taking advantage of free city or charitable services. Dillon does not have a “12-point plan” ready to fix the homeless. Instead he sees the problem and he understands the human aspect and its attendant economic constraints. He is looking for a solution that works rather than imposing a slogan.

It does my heart good to see a young, organized, charismatic and humane person ascend to a position of responsibility. But that sort of thing happens with some regularity, even if we are afraid to admit it. If you really wish to understand why America works you have to answer this question: Why would Dillon Meeks do this? Tomorrow may be the worst day in 60 years for anyone to ascend to local office. Sometimes test makers devise questions where you hunt for the best answer even if it is not a perfectly correct answer. Our public health crisis has officials looking for the “least wrong answer.” Damage mitigation is not the stuff of dreams.

Worse yet, when you pick that least worst answer there will only be three people in the world that understand you did the best you could-your spouse and your parents, with your dad kind of iffy.. In politics, you do well to keep your friends for you will surely accumulate enemies. City politics in particular is full of landmines. Try to name a prominent statewide or federal office holder who was a mayor. Money serves as a reverse motivator as the gigantic time suck makes it harder to earn a living.

Photo Credit: Omar Lopez

Against all of those negatives, being a mayor exercises the belief that we can make our town and our lives better. That community provides the key to elevating us all. Mayors do not disassemble the system or conquer the others. They role up their sleeves and find consensus. We need to remember that when the headlines suggest we are somehow a broken country. Democracy can be messy, but sometime all you need is to find someone who can build a swing.

Good luck, Dillon. I am rooting for you.

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