It can be difficult to do something for 30 days in a row. “Life” intervenes. Routines are difficult to establish, even more difficult to break. Does this mean that I have given up on my February experiment? Of course not! I have, however, fallen a bit behind. As I wrote here, I decided for February to follow Good’s 30 Days of Good Citizenship Challenge. You can see the challenges on this page. I will be updating the page with links to posts related to the challenges.
The first task was to Learn the History of My Neighborhood. Immediately, I thought of an old map we have. When we walked through the house for the first time, the owners had a framed copy of the map of our county, drawn around 1870. We had asked for it in the bid; they would not let us have it. They did, however, make a photocopy of the map and gave it to us at closing. I never framed it, but do pull it out from time to time. I have never quite identified exactly where our home is, but I know the general area and find it interesting to look at, to see the family names on the map that are now familiar place names of streets and neighborhoods.
As part of this first task, I looked at my neighborhood on WalkScore.com. My neighborhood scored a 34. I would call this “total suckage for walking”. When I input my specific address in the walk calculater, the rating was 12. I would call this “screwed if you don’t have a car”. My car was in the shop that day and I didn’t need WalkScore to tell me this. Regardless, I did walk to the nearest grocery store. It is a little more than a mile away, which is certainly a walkable distance. But, there are no sidewalks. Walking up my street, I became aware of how infrequently people drive the speed limit. Even in the middle of the day, in a neighborhood where there isn’t much activity or heavy traffic, walking is not ideal. Crossing a 4-lane divided highway is necessary to get to the store. In both directions, I didn’t make it all the way across before the light turned red. There were no WALK signs. I wasn’t even sure if the cars turning right on the red were aware that I was there. Walking to the store was invigorating and made me realize how much more walking I could do if I didn’t rely on a car for such short trips. Yet, sidewalks and crosswalks are things that you don’t miss until you have to use them, and they make such short trips much more practical and safe.
I also realized, when looking at the map, that the cemetery a mile down the road has a name. The same surname is listed several times on the 1870 map, although I can’t find the cemetery which has burials dating back to the early 1800. I found a listing on the internet of the 28 grave sites. Several of them have stories. One woman interred in the 1930’s has descendants — four generations later — who remain convinced that she was murdered by her husband.
A third realization about my neighborhood was how much litter there was. For years, we have fought litter in the drainage ditch that runs along our property next to the road. I’ve always made the assumption because we are on a corner — probably the most traffic in the neighborhood because it intersects with a busy road — and because the lot is wooded with the house barely visible from the street, that people felt that they could throw trash out the window without anyone noticing. This may be true and the fast food bags, the soda and beer cans, and other odds and ends suggest that it is viewed by many as a dumping place. I realized, though, that people don’t have to have the blind created by the trees to toss things out car windows. On my walk, I saw cigaret packs, bags, junk mail flyers, cans, bottles, banana peels, and even a baby’s diaper. At one point I thought I should have brought a bag with me, but I realized that it would have been so full, I would not have been able to carry my groceries home. One or two items scattered about go mostly unnoticed by car passengers. Walking for three blocks up my street, however, was an eye-opener.
Task 3 was to Learn the Names of Your Elected Officials. For this task, I didn’t need to do anything. I know my Congressman and my Senators — and I know that I would prefer that someone else be in each of these offices. My husband and I joke that if one of us misses an election, there will only be 50% turnout for our party. That is a slight exaggeration, but we do live in an area that is strongly Republican. What I didn’t know but discovered as I was looking at party statistics, is that our precinct has changed as of Jan 1. I wonder if I will have a new polling place. I could have walked to the old one, but it is now in a different precinct.
If you don’t know your State or Federal congressional districts, or your local school district, you can find that information on this website. All you need is a street address.
Task 7 was Get a Library Card. I did this a few months ago, and I posted about it here. I sometimes get discouraged that the library has more videos and CD’s than books, but it is still a wonderful place. I haven’t been in the library since August when every computer (about 30 at my branch) wasn’t in use. The library is one of the best civic deals around.
Task 8, Help Someone Today, and Task 12, Register to Volunteer are also two tasks that I easily accomplished. I tutor each week at a nearby elementary school, helping a 9-year-old boy with his reading. He really doesn’t need reading assistance; what he needs is individual attention. Yesterday, I brought my camera and we took a few pictures out of the window. Since it was sleeting, going outdoors was not an option. Then, together we wrote a story about the playground. I didn’t want to get up yesterday morning, a cold and snowy day, to drive to the school, and for a moment wished that the school had called a snow-delay, but once I got there, I realized how much fun I have each week when I spend one short hour there.
But, you don’t have to volunteer to help someone. Doing something as simple as letting someone else go first at a stop sign, saying a sincere “Thank you for your time.” to someone at the store or on the phone, or smiling at the toll booth operator and telling him to “Stay warm.” are ways to brighten someone’s day, which helps us all. It’s so simple to do, but like any routine, if you don’t do it all the time, you may have to think about doing it. Try it; brightening someone’s day is a good place to start to help others. It may take a wee bit of energy, but it doesn’t take much time.