Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Far From The Madding Crowd... Or Are We?
Far from The Madding Crowd... or are we?
These familiar words are not only the name of a book but an excerpt from Thomas Gray’s poem. It is a phrase which has evolved to suggest a country refuge where one can find serenity and inner peace. When my family came to Grimes County, we were sure we had finally found our own place, “far from the madding crowd.” Madding is a nearly obsolete word which just means frenzied, and it was the word Gray chose to describe the typical urban mob. Gray wrote:
“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life,
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.”
“They” were those who were removed from, or who had removed themselves from the “big city rat race” as we call it today. But as with Gray’s genteel English countryside, Grimes County did not stay the picturesque all-American rural refuge we found in 1972. For my family, Grimes County has been more of a living illustration of Benjamin Disraeli’s axiom:
“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”
And with the changes have been the most remarkable displays of protest. Grimes County proved to be an intriguing and yet explosive mixture of cultures and dogmas and factional feuds. Over the years we have seen our neighbors and sometimes ourselves embroiled in controversies over various divisive issues. We have drummed out a nudist camp, a bullet train, a Pan-American highway, a golf course, a residential treatment center, and shed the lifeblood of this community over the coming of two TDC Units, power plants, dumps, strip mines, and an Aggie Expressway. Hardly a man is left standing.
The winners of all of these battles have been Brenham, Montgomery, College Station, and our other grateful neighbors. It seems that in this instant, we are the madding crowd. We have been our own worst enemy. And we are really good at it.
Change is coming. Change is here. Today is the tomorrow we all talked about in the Eighties and Nineties. The ripe gap between Washington County and Montgomery County is finally the apple of the investors eye. The question is, can we pull ourselves together and grow and prosper with the change, or be victims of its random appetite. Disraeli also said: “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” Will we unify, get a new attitude or fail as we get entangled in the throes of self-destruction, and be rejected by a world who will dismiss us for our smallness of mind and love of contention?
When well meaning citizens ask important questions, our public servants must learn to stop and treat those questions with due attention or suffer a hailstorm of unnecessary investigations. That’s politics. But when questions do arise among the citizens, they must learn to ask questions without sinking our ship. This community has proven in the past that it has the fearsome power to roll heads and principalities. Now it needs to prove that it is not just a mob, fueled by anger and innuendo, but citizens with a team spirit.
The present controversy concerning our schools is a perfect example of Navasota’s messy tendency to get change with the finesse of a lynch mob. I am so tired of hearing the lie, fed by realtors in competing areas, that we have bad schools. We need to defend our schools and teachers and bury the noose and learn to settle things within the system, and show the world this is not a town run by powerful factions, or worse, ruthless demigods. That is why I hope the current administration is vindicated, and the latest test results point to that, and we can resume building a great town here in Grimes County. If Navasota cannot rise above these stupid self-bloodlettings, we are doomed to be a second rate community, and we will become what we have been protected from all of these years. We will be changed by outside forces rather than thoughtfully built from within. And many of us will stray in the process, searching for “the cool sequestered vale of life,” and continue the never ending flight from the madding crowd.
But one more stanza from Gray’s poem...
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”
What would you want your tombstone to say? "Here lies so and so, who was quick to gather a posse and chastise whoever they thought might be misspending a tax dollar, or violating the letter of the law,” or “Here lies so and so, who led in the growth of the town, and dodging a proliferation of criticisms, improved its schools and public buildings and left this place better than when he found it”?
History has a way of revealing who the good guys were. Today no one cares who the nitwits were that objected to Texas A&M, the WPA, or the Statue of Liberty. This town has an unparalleled opportunity to start writing its own history. Let’s not fall under the crippling sway of the madding crowd.