This is an op-ed written by outgoing Third Ward Alderperson Jeffrey Barken, who also delivered the sentiments at the June Common Council meeting. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, please send them to Matt Butler at email@example.com.
Given all our talk and investment in programs promoting healing, it’s fair to question our community’s capacity to forgive. Maya Angelou spoke at my college graduation. She said “Courage is the most important of the virtues…. You can be kind and true and fair and generous and just, and even merciful, occasionally, but to be that thing time after time, you have to really have courage.”
I believe forgiveness is the greatest act of courage. Again, I take my bearings from Maya Angelou. She’d acknowledged her own guiding poet. In the second century BC, the African slave, Terence—freed and honored by a Roman Senator—became the greatest playwright of his day. “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me,” Angelou quoted his ancient phrase.
That this city has changed so rapidly has unnerved many. We can blame the pandemic, but we must also hold ourselves accountable. We have spurned immense talent. There has been abuse and folly. Because the integrity of our government was compromised, it was necessary to question the implementation of planned reforms. The County Seat has learned an important lesson. Ithaca is not an island.
I’m reminded of a winter bus ride home from Caroline Elementary. My backpack was bursting with crumpled assignments. When it was my stop, everything fell out. The aisle wet with slush, I quickly gathered what I could and clambered off. My mom was waiting in the car. We drove the short way home. Exhausted, “I’ll never manage to bring everything inside in one trip,” I complained. My mom opened the glove compartment. There were several paper clips inside. She started pinning all of my damp and tattered pages together. “You always have to use what you’ve got,” she said.
Pandemic relief will soon expire. Some measure of austerity is imminent. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for mayor know what expertise and creativity abounds among independent thinkers. A sobered discourse will rally beleaguered city staff.
There are values, cherished and lived here, that are being manipulated to serve national interests. The “Solidarity Slate” pledges to vote in lockstep for new spending, even though they’ve split their votes before. This is peddling empty slogans. The real work of healing is personal, and shouldn’t be a rallying cry for one group to build a platform asserting their moral authority. Rhetoric cannot deliver lasting compassion. A far better course trusts the wisdom of Angelou and Terence. In saying, “I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me,” we find the courage to forgive.
There’s so much to celebrate about who we are and where we live.
It’s been an honor to serve. Thank you all.