Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. — Teddy Roosevelt
A few weeks ago, a columnist from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wrote a piece titled “Winter as Metaphor for Community’s Woes.” If you’ve read the column and you’re a true-blue Western New Yorker, you’ll immediately see the column itself as a metaphor for our community’s woes.
The writer, while acknowledging the obvious diminution in our region’s stature, meekly states “The decline we’ve seen is not a character flaw; it’s the result of economic forces beyond our control.”
Actually, the statement reflects the major character flaw many die-hard residents of the western frontier of New York State see in our neighborhood – too many people, especially those floating merrily in the ether of high profile, fail by wallowing in self-pity rather than seizing the reins of self-improvement.
We all know our population growth has stagnated as the rest of the nation continues to grow. We’ve seen too many of our best and our brightest flee the calcifying regime of an ancient Empire State. Yes, we can rightfully point our collective fingers at Albany, but isn’t it time we take responsibility for ourselves?
Here’s another choice tidbit from the horrid column: “…we are a smaller, older city these days, and adjusting to a new future will be much easier when we have adjusted to demography.” Is the author suggesting our best days are behind us? Think about the attitude the writer portrays. If you’re a young, hopeful college student with an entrepreneurial zest, would you want to risk your future living in an area that acquiesces to this downhill fate?
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. — Teddy Roosevelt
The columnist’s supplication is not the “circle the wagons” mind-set ESPN famously imbued upon the Buffalo Bills and, by proxy, us. This imagery of a community forged to combat and defeat the elements runs contrary to the D&C’s apparent vision of a group of helpless peasants succumbing to “forces beyond our control.” There is no heroism in submissively accepting a lesser place. America applauds those rugged individuals who, using only their wits and the resources on hand, subdue and conquer, no matter how long the odds. Think MacGyver.
Twenty years ago I lamented as they pulled up the rusty rails of the old Class I railroads that once crisscrossed our region. Every ruined industrial carcass that fell victim to the wrecker’s ball brought a tear to my eye. Yet, like some Captain Kirk confronting the Kobayashi Maru test, I resisted the easy path of capitulation. Yes, an escape to Manhattan tempted me, but I defiantly said, “No!”
Why? Because I believe. I believe in myself and in my community.
We CAN create a better Western New York. To do so requires an honest rejection of those who would rather drown in our community’s woes than swim with the sharks. We must allow our young (and sometimes not so young) innovators to re-envision and recreate our infrastructure. We can streamline Western New York, make it cheaper to live here, make it a magnet for inventors, make it a place where, without question, people believe in.
Winter is less a metaphor and more a Rorschach test. Some see it as a cold gray doldrums. Others look upon snowy skies with the anticipation of the fun yet to come. I’ll leave you with the thoughts of our 26th President, a renowned rugged individualist who fabricated success from whatever nature provided and the only Commander-in-Chief to have been sworn into office in Western New York:
Believe you can and you’re halfway there. — Teddy Roosevelt