A friend of mine owned an independent bookstore for a number of years, and during that time he claimed to have the best job in the world. All day long, he said, intelligent, engaging people come through the door and talk about the subjects that they’re most passionate about.
That same friend was also an avid runner, and he loaned me a book 10 years ago (that I haven’t gotten around to returning; sorry, Bob!) called Running & Being by the “running philosopher” George Sheehan. One of Sheehan’s favorite quotes was from William James: “The strenuous life tastes better.”
Sustainability attracts optimists, people who aren’t afraid to dream big. People who will tilt at windmills and end up victorious. This spring, my sister’s friend, Ibti Vincent, quit her high school teaching job in Washington, D.C. and decided to bike across the country to visit farms and learn firsthand how the systems that produce healthy, natural food work. I’ll use her words:
“I have read about some of the issues and possible solutions in [Michael] Pollan’s writings, in [Barbara] Kingsolver, in [Eric] Schlosser, but I want to know more. I want to see more and do more, learn more and help more.”
By the way, at the time Ibti decided to take this coast-to-coast-and-back-again 6,000 mile trip, she didn’t know how to ride a bike.
She has since learned. She’s already biked from D.C. to Pittsburgh, and she just spent four and a half days in Philadelphia visiting places like Mill Creek Farm, University City High and Saul High School. Read her blog abikeablefeast.blogspot.com to see her impressions of Philly. I mean, we already know that our city is awesome, but it’s fun to see an outsider passing through who arrives at the same conclusion.
Speaking of dreamers and epic undertakings, enjoy Natalie Hope McDonald’s excellent piece on Jerome Shabazz and the Overbrook Environmental Educational Center. When you witness what’s already been accomplished there, and what Shabazz imagines the Center becoming, you can’t help but feel hope. Similarly inspiring is the Mill Creek Farm. In just four years, Johanna Rosen and Jade Walker transformed unused land into one of the most vibrant places in the city.
Folks, there is a movement afoot, and every day more people are opening up to new—and often old, discarded—ideas. Some will hear the message and do extraordinary things. And we will admire them for it.
For the rest of us, the message of sustainability will inspire us to make the small but very meaningful changes in how we live. We might not bike across the country, but we might bike to work. (And, if we read Will Dean’s helpful how-to, we might patch our tire when we get a flat.) We might not start a farm, but we might do a little gardening, and buy more food from local farmers. And we might not start an education center in our neighborhood, but we might talk to our friends and family about what we’re learning.
Each time we taste that strenuous life, and reap the rewards of living more deliberately, we’ll be emboldened to do more. Together we’ll take more steps toward becoming the people we want to be, and living in the world and city where we want to live.
Alex J. Mulcahy