One moment in time:
News feeds are rolling across my screen from Baltimore - buildings and police cars set on fire, looters carrying booty through broken windows of mom and pop neighborhood stores. It looks like a war zone from a third-world country, not a historic New England city. It's almost hard to believe what you are seeing. A city destroying itself.
And finally, a "ping" breaks my anesthetized gaze.
It's an email coming in about a Habitat for Humanity house project in Storm Lake, where volunteers help a limited-income family to have a home.
Thank goodness. I needed that.
Another ping. About a civic group in Storm Lake cleaning up a beach that night. Kiwanians, some well into their 60s or 70s, hauling heavy bags of debris so families could have a nice place to go this summer.
Ping. An email from a group working on a YMCA or rec center project. Ping. A story on a group launching a much needed day care in the area. Ping. A fund drive to help paint a house for an area blind couple who have done much to help out their neighbors in past years.
Ping. College kids and elementary kids working together on community improvement projects for Buenafication Day today. Ping - a local community group will dedicate a new park and campground area.
And another. About police and sheriff officers working hard training on how to help in the case of an emergency involving a school bus. Ping. A local ministry starting a community garden project to help feed the needy. That's one afternoon, people.
I think you see where I'm heading here.
There are two ways to respond to community issues and needs. One is hate. The other is to get off your butt and do something about it.
Granted, Storm Lake is no urban center like Baltimore. But I doubt the people themselves are so different. We all want the same things - opportunities, respect, safety, a better life for our children. Both are communities with large population percentages that once would have been thought of as "minority." Both have some poverty and some wealth, their share of frustrations.
They are calling what is going on in Baltimore a "protest." It is no such thing.
Decent people tried to protest peacefully, and good for them. But their good, needed message is lost when others burn, attack and steal.
Those people are not protestors, they are criminals. Lots of people, everywhere, face tragedies, frustrations, discrimination, and they don't turn to hate or act like animals because of it.
There is a better way. If your community has a problem, you talk about it, write about it, demonstrate about it, until you change it. Bad people can be voted out or removed from office if necessary. Racism can be beaten. Blight can be cleaned up. Opportunity can be forged. Expectations can be raised. It's all up to us. If there is a need, form up and act. No matter if you are just one person, stand up and do something.
And if you are not willing to do anything, then quit complaining.
I hear and see plenty of people talking down our community - most are from outside and don't have much of an idea what they are talking about. But some are residents, very quick to try to point out everything they don't like. Why would you choose to live in a place where all you can do is run it down? Usually, I don't see that person on any committee, volunteering in any community program or in the schools, or frankly, doing much of anything but complaining that life isn't fair to them.
I'd like to see more pride in Storm Lake. It's our place - and it has a lot going for it. Good schools and colleges, an amazing glacial lake and string of parks, great health care facilities, a diverse population that is able to thrive and get along, strong public safety.
You want to complain about police? We just shared a note on our Facebook page about an officer who stopped to talk with a young person at a playground... and pretty soon the cop comes by again, with a basketball he had gotten for the person. In this world, you reap what you sow - if you treat others well, they tend to return the favor.
Perhaps most important, we have volunteers who make wonderful things happen, out there every day trying to make our community an even better place.
The way I see it, every person has a choice to make - be a small part of a solution, or be a big part of the problem.
It seems that in our cities these days, people just wait for an excuse to riot and run wild in the streets. And all they are accomplishing is to destroy their own neighborhoods.
If all those people, with all that energy and emotion, made any effort to do something positive, they could create an incredible neighborhood watch program that could prevent unrest on their streets. They could stop illiteracy. They could build playgrounds and parks.
Instead of winding up in jail for senseless violence, they could leave something behind to be proud of.