It’s been over a month since I drove westward into the sunset after spending roughly 25 years living and working in Crookston. Seattle has been the destination to start a new job and to experience the excitement of exploring a city I’ve come to enjoy increasingly over the past several years. Things have gone well so far, and I’ve had a bit of time to process some of my impressions and feelings about the move. I’d like to share them.

    First, and I’ll be painfully honest here, I don’t miss the early snow and 5-to-6-month-long winters. Shortly after I arrived in Seattle, I received an email from a friend who included a photo of the snow-covered ground in Crookston. The date was October 10. Even before then I evaded the extremely cold temperatures hovering in the teens during the last weekend in September. Via social media I saw the revelers at the U of M Crookston’s homecoming events. They were dressed in their parkas, managing a good level of enthusiasm but still daunted by the cold. Hardy Minnesotans, indeed.

    I’ve lost my mojo in the category of tolerating the bitter cold, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed the late October daytime temps in the 60s and 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s here in the Pacific Northwest, where it appears we can expect the season of autumn to last more than a weekend. I offer a hearty “good-on-ya” to everyone who manages to muddle through and even thrive despite the climate. I’ll toast you here, and you can give me a hard time when the 5-to-6-month-long grey, cloudy rainy season begins to drag on me. I guess I’ve now become the riff-raff you hardy folks say the cold keeps out of Minnesota.

    One very cool thing about Seattle is that art is everywhere! Murals with different colors adorn buildings in so many places. Diverse people, animals, and objects are depicted via diverse artistic styles. Sculptures—both traditional and modern—line the sidewalks and parks and other public spaces. It’s truly food for the eyes, the mind, and the soul. I know there is a group in Crookston working to bring more public art to town, and I urge you to support their efforts.

    Traffic and parking are real issues here in Seattle. The complaints I remember hearing in Crookston about parking are laughable. Oh, Crookston, land of front door Doris Day parking! Don’t ever complain about having to walk a couple blocks, as you probably don’t know how good you have it. Seriously.

    I do miss my former 5-minute commute. It takes me about 50 minutes one-way to drive to the park-and-ride light rail station, get on the train to downtown, and then walk three blocks to my office. Time is a precious commodity, and now I spend more of it to get to and from work. Most of my colleagues here tell me of their nearly hour-long commutes as well.

    I’ve come to appreciate public transit, however, as my time on the train gives me opportunity to think, monitor social media, and watch people. It’s time I would likely have wasted in any case. Maybe I would have come home to watch the national evening news, something I’ve grown to appreciate not seeing, what with the divisiveness and vitriol our president has brought to our public discourse from our highest office. It deeply saddens me. But I digress…

    People watching is my new obsession, and the residents of Seattle offer some great fare. I’ve seen near infinite diversity in human beings and style of dress. I believe in one week I’ve seen more day-glo hair tint colors of red, orange, hot pink, blue, green, and purple than in my whole life in Minnesota! I’ve seen earrings, noserings, other piercings, men in kilts, women in overalls, rainbow everything, trench coats, hijabs, turbans, dreadlocks, mohawks, as well as jackets, shoes, and hats of all kinds—so much human expression through style! I’ve heard people speaking a variety of languages. I’ve seen members of the LGBTQ community feel comfortable holding hands in public. Believers and nonbelievers walk down the streets without trying to convert each other. I’ve seen a multitude of races, religions, and walks of life. And all of that is glorious! That’s what the U.S. was intended to be about—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

    There’s also glorious diversity in the choices of food and drink here in Seattle, and that’s wonderful for the taste buds if not for the waistline and bank account. Variety is truly the spice of life, and sharing different foods is one way of understanding others better.

    Diversity is truly boundless here. I wish there had been both more of it and more appreciation for it in Crookston. There could be, but you’ve got to nurture it, embrace it, and actively welcome it. There is some good work toward those goals being done in Crookston, but, like across much of rural America (and probably urban America too, if I’m being honest), there’s still plenty to be done. Keep working at it. It’s worth it. It reminds us that everyone is not just like us. Now more than ever that understanding is sorely needed in our public discourse.

    I’ve seen some homeless folks wandering the streets in Seattle. That’s always an eye opener, and it’s also a good reminder to remain humble and empathetic. There are many who do not have much of anything, and we need to actively work to remedy the root causes. It’s a fairly invisible issue in Northwest Minnesota, especially in winter, but it still exists.

    I guess the point of this message has to do with empathy and appreciating other people’s experiences. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to now live in a place that seems to take its role as part of the larger, diverse, interconnected world seriously. Due to sheer exposure to more people from a wider array of places, the residents of the greater Seattle area seem unfazed by differences. And not fearing differences is important in allowing us to appreciate differences.

    Rural Minnesota can be insular, especially because of those long winters. So okay, Crookston, you may need to work a little harder to really gain true understanding of and appreciation for diversity. It is something to strive for.

    Fortunately, this is one area in which Crookston has a potentially huge advantage over other rural communities, as it is home to the University of Minnesota Crookston and the oasis of diversity its students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests bring to the region. If you haven’t done so, you really should make a point of getting involved in one of the many ways the campus reaches out to the community through programs, events, and student activities. Go ahead, UMC would love to have you on campus. I know this because I worked there for nearly 25 years.

    I’ll wrap up this rambling piece with a thought that seems particularly salient as we prepare to vote in our elections. This may be a turning point for us as a nation and for our democracy such as it is. Democracy is founded on the principle of everyone having an equal voice and everyone at least attempting to respect and understand each other. Sure, a majority of votes means some will have the power to set the agenda and lead. But we can never forget or disenfranchise the folks in the minority or those holding an opposing view as policy decisions are made. This is where that important ability called empathy comes in. It seems to have been overlooked lately. Winning an election by a slim margin is not a mandate to disregard other views, nor is it an excuse to force an agenda simply because a slim majority gave someone “power.”

    Power comes from ALL the people. Our best leaders inspire us to work together to reach consensus where everyone can benefit, not just a few. They unite us, not divide us. They lift everyone up, not single certain ones out as winners or losers. They work toward inclusion rather than exclusion. They listen to both consenting and dissenting opinions. They are compassionate and empathetic. They work to understand and never mock. And, perhaps most importantly, they strive to be truthful and honest. All those things take real work and a great deal of time and effort. Shouldn’t we expect, even demand that from our elected officials?

    I hope you all have the chance to appreciate the wide spectrum of human thought, experience, and expression—no matter where you live. Again, those of you living in rural Northwest Minnesota just might need to work a little harder to truly experience that. All the best to you and to this country as we cast our important votes.