The inherent decency of Springs neighbors

*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on January 28, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.screen shot 2019-01-28 at 4.29.13 am

Recently, in announcing his transition away from sports to writing about local issues, Gazette columnist Dave Ramsey wrote what amounts to a love letter to Colorado Springs. He covered a lot of ground in describing the beauty of our landscape until he bumped into a persistent Springs stereotype, that our town is “inhabited by rigid members of the military [and] uptight evangelicals who invade your personal business and aggressively argue politics.”

Of course, all stereotypes contain a kernel of truth, but Ramsey shot this one down rather quickly with a story about his neighbor Neil, a “proud veteran and a devout Christian.” In a twist of the he’d-give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back tale, Ramsey describes that Neil, having seen Ramsey struggle with an unruly lawn and puny mower, gave Ramsey his own lawn mower. That neighborly moment of generosity clearly touched Ramsey.

And it’s not the first time a local writer’s expressed that sentiment.

In 1952, legendary science-fiction author Robert Heinlein, who at the time lived near the Broadmoor on Mesa Avenue, wrote and read an audio essay for Edward R. Murrow’s “This I Believe” radio series (available at https://thisibelieve.org/essay/16630/). Heinlein’s talk was titled “Our Noble, Essential Decency,” but it was really about his noble and decent neighbors, right here in Colorado Springs.

“I believe in my neighbors,” Heinlein said, because, “I know their faults, and I know that their virtues far outweigh their faults.” His first example was “Father Michael, down our road a piece. I’m not of his creed, but I know that goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. I believe in Father Mike. If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.” (It’s likely that Heinlein referred to Monsignor Michael Harrington, who led the nearby Saint Paul Catholic Church from 1935 to 1974).

Moreover, Heinlein said, “I believe in my townspeople. You can knock on any door and in our town, say ‘I’m hungry,’ and you’ll be fed.”

In the community’s political life, Heinlein said he believed in his “fellow citizens,” and “that almost all politicians are honest,” because, “if this were not true, we would never have gotten past the Thirteen Colonies.”

There’s more, so much more, to both Ramsey and Heinlein’s beautifully written expressions of appreciation at the joy of living in the Pikes Peak region. But I’d like to pivot to a general trend I’ve observed in their writing and in my own daily life.

Which is that we’re drawn here by what can be seen, and we choose to stay by what’s unseen.

We talk endlessly about red rocks and infinite trails, but we too often forget our neighbors. Like neutral wallpaper, it’s just assumed. We stop noticing it’s even there. As Heinlein put it, the decency of those around us can be “so obvious that it has gone out of style to mention them.”

But we should. I don’t know about you, but we’re crazy about our neighbors. They’re not perfect, at all, and they never will be (neither are we, of course)—but they’re kind, decent, and generous. From a distance they might seem to fit into certain straitjacketed stereotypes, but up close and personal, those fall apart and what’s left is another small group of human beings trying to do good in the world as best as they’re able.

When we recognize that inherent decency in our neighbors, the screaming stereotypes tend to cease. Heinlein, by the way, was a 1929 graduate of the US Naval Academy and naval officer in World War II. I attended West Point and am an officer in the US Army. I’d like to think, however, that once our neighbors got to know us a little, they’d see past the military service to who we are as human beings. As with books and covers, we shouldn’t judge a neighbor on a haircut.

Separated by nearly 70 years, Ramsey and Heinlein’s essays are united in reminding us how lucky we are to be here, together, in the Pikes Peak region.

And I’m proud to call them my neighbors.

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