Each month, a different Westporter gives an invocation before the RTM meeting.
Most are earnest, but unmemorable. (Trust me, I know: I’ve given one myself.)
Last month, Jessica Bram departed from the usual aren’t-we-all-lucky-to-live-in-Westport platitudes. Instead — peaking directly to her colleagues — the RTM member confronted important issues head-on.
I asked Jessica if I could post her words here, so au audience greater than a few dozen legislators and local policy wonks could see — and reflect — on them. Here’s her invocation:
I moved to Westport over 24 years ago. A single mother when I arrived, I didn’t know a soul here. I raised 3 sons who now have successful lives because they went through our extraordinary Westport Public Schools – that school system that we are here to talk about tonight.
(Incidentally, I will mention that one of my sons married his Staples High School girlfriend— he went to Bedford, she to Coleytown— and they just had their second child.)
When Coleytown Middle School was shut down, I remember saying – because our school system is so critical in this town—that this was the single worst thing that ever happened to Westport in my 24-year memory.
To lose an entire middle school … to be forced to cram one entire school population in with another! Remember what a crisis that was? The worst that could ever happen.
Then came COVID.
And instead of being upset because our kids were in crowded classrooms after Coleytown moved in with Bedford (remember we were upset because so many had to have lunch so early?), now there was COVID. And now all our kids had to stay home from school.
Our whole town changed. Businesses failed, people lost jobs, restaurants shut down. Perhaps worst of all, we couldn’t be together.
Two years later, here we are, at our RTM meeting, still on Zoom.
Yes, we disagree on so many things. We all have opinions here (as you know I have opinions on everything, you’ve all heard them).
But let’s think about what our differences are about, and the values that they reflect.
We argued about using ARPA funds for beach repair. But wasn’t that about protecting the environment? Being responsible stewards of our shoreline, our town’s greatest asset?
Yes, we fight about gas-powered blowers. But isn’t that because each of us wants to hold so tightly on to the Westport that we all came here for, the homes and lives we built for our families, regardless of whether that’s quiet afternoons or beautiful lawns?
Yes, we have argued for and against offering public transportation. But what a gift we received from that conflict! That gift of having received over 100 heartfelt emails — each one different, each expressive, none of them boiler plate.
I learned so much that I didn’t know about … what it’s like to have an infant at home and only one car… what it’s like to be a worn-out commuter. So because of that conflict we got to know so much about our neighbors’ lives, in personal, truthful ways.
We argue vehemently about P&Z issues such as affordable housing, 8-30g, and the zoning problems that that legislation causes. But although we may vehemently disagree about zoning issues, we do respect our town bodies that allow our disagreements to be spoken aloud and acted on in orderly, non-combative ways.
One thing I do know is that regardless of how we feel about 8-30-g, we all do care about, and have compassion for, families, either struggling or wealthy families, who all want to have safe, affordable homes where we can raise our children.
And don’t we all support our organizations such as Homes with Hope, that are working so hard to end homelessness — whether we offer that support philanthropically, or by cooking and serving lasagna in our newly renovated Gillespie Center?
Let me point out that we are, after all, a town that has a youth center, and homeless shelter, a block away from a Tiffany’s. All of which says something about what we in Westport care about. Not just the homeless shelter. But Tiffany’s too, because it does speak of the lives we unapologetically want for our children.
Yes, some of us cling furiously to our causes and our pet issues and our political affiliations.
Yes, we may disagree on so many things.
Yes, our RTM meetings can at times stretch agonizingly long into the night.
But let’s remember who we are.
With all our disagreements, in all those exhausting, contentious, boring RTM meetings, we are all doing it just to make things right.
Let’s think about the values and principles that we share at the heart of it all – our families, our first responders, our overworked teachers. And yes, even our noisy neighbors.
Let’s remind ourselves – and applaud ourselves for — living in a town not of things and real estate, but of principles. That what we’re here for – especially those of us on the RTM — are principles of honesty and fairness —and what’s really important in our troubled world.
Because that’s who we are.
And know that in the end, we care for, respect, and yes, even a little bit, love each other.