My regular walk takes me along a dyke beside a fen that should not be there. It exists because one neighbour called another. She happened to be a Mom with a new baby and rushed with her babe in arms to stand in front of the tree cutters and earthmovers. From there they rallied the neighbourhood, called the local media and persuaded City Hall to cease their ‘upgrading.’
Few people in our community know about this story. For one, it happened nearly four decades ago. For another, the extraordinariness of so-called ordinary people runs counter to the superhero story that dominates in our culture. We are more inclined to put up a plaque if it’s one person’s work than if it’s the work of a group of people.
Which is ironic, because it’s the superhero story that should fade away. Every day, everywhere people come together to make their neighbourhoods and communities just a little bit better. And their stories are seldom told.
I happened to learn about this little gem because the Mom joined me on one of my walks and she brought it up in passing. In all our years of friendship she had never mentioned it, as if it was no big deal. But it is a big deal.
Today, instead of condos the area provides hundreds of walkers with daily pleasure. Many more on the weekend. Their dogs seem to like it too! It’s also a rest stop for 300 species of birds and more than 10,000 ducks and geese as they move between southern wintering sites and northern summer breeding grounds.
As I wrote in my book Impact, we do not live in a leaderless society. Our society is full of leaders who commit without fanfare, without degrees and without mandates. They take their cues from each other rather than from those at the front of the room, top of the pyramid or head of the parade.
In my community, they can also take their cue from the thousand’s of dunlins who flock to the fen at this time of year. Their synchronized flight as they swirl and twist without collision is magical. Here is a 60-second clip. (I don’t have a local video so I borrowed this from an area just south of where I live.) Watch as a section of them banks in unison. See the sun as it catches their wings creating a silver strand which braids through the rest of the flock. And all this is reflected in the water below, creating twice the brilliance.
It’s time to pay more attention to the brilliant work of the passionate ordinaries among us. To honour them. To have faith in them. Here’s a resolution: let’s nurture a “resurrection of the ordinary” and end our reliance on the superhero/saviour model of social change.
And, as usual, the new ideas and hopeful possibilities will come from the margins, because that is where people are who have a different experience and knowledge of the world. (Tim Brodhead)