Ordinary, extraordinary people, unalienable rights, and moving on


By Jeff Keeling

Behind the neighbors’ big old maple tree, the rising sun is bathing the southeastern sky in coral. It’s a relatively ordinary sight. The sun rises in that direction every day, and as often as not it casts colors only the human eye can adequately capture.

Perhaps, then, a beautiful sunrise is both ordinary and extraordinary. Perhaps a parent and child walking to school through the fallen leaves of autumn, the parent worrying about the coming day’s stresses while trying to listen to the child’s enthusiastic chatter about just another day – perhaps that, too, is ordinary and extraordinary.

Perhaps the supervisor and her developmentally disabled employee working together, shelving product at some local corporate store that looks like hundreds of other corporate stores, is ordinary and extraordinary. Perhaps this past weekend’s state cross country meet, where young runners of many shapes, sizes and skin tones strained to excel for team and self and where family and friends of every background and political persuasion cheered them on, was ordinary and extraordinary.

No one, least of all I, would argue that today (Tuesday) is not extraordinary. A presidential election  has finally arrived, following a campaign most would say has been unlike any in memory – though I would argue that it, too, is ordinary as well as extraordinary. And I am between jobs, having accepted an offer to work for a local credit union that, I am confident, serves members who are both ordinary and extraordinary.

Working these past three years for the News & Neighbor and its sister publication, The Business Journal, has been a joy. Looking back at comments I made when I was preparing to come on board, I leave knowing it has been a privilege and a pleasure to have experienced much of what I expected coming in.

First, to our ordinary and extraordinary community: I expressed excitement in October 2013 about covering efforts by leaders in our area to, “not just maintain but enhance its excellent quality of life, and to attract and retain the kinds of people, jobs and investment that can create a foundation for sustainable growth and development stretching forward for several decades.”

When I spoke those words, the Tweetsie Trail and Founders Park didn’t exist. The parking garage on West Market Street still sat over empty space where county offices and courts had once been. Work was just beginning to restore one of the city’s old railroad depots, while another across the road sat empty and decaying.

Today, the depots are active, popular businesses that bring many people downtown and beneath the parking garage, hundreds of students further their educations at Northeast State Community College.

And those things are the tip of the iceberg. Downtown Johnson City has undergone a renaissance I doubt even the most optimistic of us would have predicted. Continued revitalization of the historic areas of town – what made Johnson City Johnson City – is just part of the overall puzzle in helping our community thrive and grow, but it’s a very important, visible part. Leaders have taken other important steps these past three years to set us up for a good quality of life and strong economy.

Three years ago, I also spoke of how, while out of journalism, I’d missed meeting a wide variety of people around our community, spending time talking with them about their particular passions, expertise or stories, and conveying that to readers, “in a captivating and easy-to-understand way.”

The past three years have showered me with an embarrassment of riches in that category. I hope that I have sometimes conveyed peoples’ stories in ways that were, indeed, captivating and easy to understand. This community is filled with people who are ordinary and extraordinary, and I have been lucky to hear their stories.

Thanks to any of you who have read along and shared stories with me, whether in articles or in this column. I hope to be contributing on occasion in the future. I’ll leave you with this:

Americans may seem to have separated themselves into opposing camps politically, socially and culturally. This presidential campaign has exacerbated that perception with its negativity.

I believe the vast majority of Trump voters, Clinton voters and non-voters are ordinary people with the capacity and even the desire to do extraordinary things. Our country’s founders had it right when they wrote that, “all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

That passage came to mind last week as I thought about our country and this election. People generally want to exercise their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That their views of what that means are as diverse as this wonderfully diverse land should not lead to irreconcilable division in our extravagantly wealthy, incredibly powerful nation.

The world still needs America to lead, and to exemplify the protection and cultivation of people’s freedom to exercise their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No matter your political opinions in this season, you are an ordinary person who can do extraordinary things. Please remember that about yourself and others as you process the results of election 2016.


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