By Tom Holmes
T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice." Many of us in the Oak Park-River Forest area are attempting to find that new voice and "next year's words" as we take our first steps into 2014. We asked a selection of local residents to share their thoughts as we enter the new year.
Some responses sounded like standard New Year's resolutions: "I need to spend far less time on social media and far more time at the gym," declared Cisco Cotto, pastor of Village Church, but then he hedged. "Although I guess I could check Twitter on the treadmill."
Oak Park Trustee Ray Johnson talked about improving the balance between work and life.
Michael Radzilowski, a lawyer, said, "I need to get my divorce finalized. I want to get my exercise routine in place and be more proactive in my gardening."
He then directed the focus away from himself, adding, "We all need to figure out how to use fewer resources and help others by reaching out to them. At least once a month we need to reach out and meet someone new to see what we have in common."
Louise Corzine, a nurse and administrator at the V.A. Hospital in Maywood, followed suit, committing to "give the gift of presence and be open to the gifts of the universe — my own self, my husband, family and community."
Likewise, Gary Palese, a retired controller who sits on the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission, said, "I need to be more understanding of other people's viewpoints. I would like to be a much better caregiver for friends and my spouse."
Marty Colchamaro, who is retired after working a number of jobs, ranging from the New York Stock Exchange to chauffer, said he wants to be more of a change agent on social and political issues.
Bob Sherrell has been working toward social/political change for a long time. He was tear-gassed at Selma, director of human resources at the Woodlawn Organization and served as an Oak Park trustee from 1989 to 1993. With a hint of weariness in his voice he said, "What needs to change with me is to regain a sense of hopefulness that petty political grandstanding will be confronted and refuted."
Pat Koko, outreach coordinator for the Oak Park Arms Adult Day Care program, said she'd be happy if the year we just entered would be as good as the one we left. "I have been blessed throughout my life with wonderful family members and good friends," she explained. "My career path has enabled me to achieve goals that have helped others to survive, thrive, and grow. Personal changes don't seem to be foremost in my mind as I look toward 2014."
Bobbie Raymond, retired director of the Housing Center, seemed to agree: "2013 was a great year for me, full of delight in my grandson Trevor and general happiness at having reached the age of 75 in fairly good shape. I seem to demand less material possessions all the time. I plan to divest myself of even more 'stuff' in the coming year."
"Stop your whining," was the wish of a few of the respondents in regards to the village. Cotto reflected the two-sided mindset of many Oak Parkers when they talk about their village.
"Traffic and property taxes," he said. "Yes, those things we all complain about while admitting we'd still rather live here than anywhere else."
Raymond was even more emphatic. "Oak Park is the best place to live. I would like to see less complaining and hostility between people on the Internet talking about Oak Park. Enough already. Appreciate what we have and don't be so quick to blame the village employees for everything you don't like. Yes, we are paying high taxes, but we are getting a lot in return."
Sherrell wished 2014 would bring an "overcoming of political apathy and more citizen involvement in the village government."
The remaining respondents all mentioned business in one form or another. Johnson talked about the village "seizing the opportunity for economic development — when it makes sense." Corzine wished the village would "learn from Forest Park and stop punishing small business owners with unreasonable demands and unjust fees." She does not want downtown Oak Park to turn into restaurant row.
Palese had several items on his wish list: "A comprehensive business plan for the village based on architecture and history in order to attract new business without village incentives and reduce the tax burden on homeowners. Change the parking rules to allow Oak Park taxpayers more access to their own streets. Define what is meant in the village when it uses the term 'diversity.'"
Probably to no one's surprise, people from the Oak Park area have a lot to say about what needs to happen in 2014 at the national level. At the top of most wish lists was the longing for a change in attitude more than a change of policies.
Raymond posed the question, "How can we restore the basic trust and goodness of our people?"
Colchamiro seemed to respond to Raymond's question and spoke for many when he replied, "Without a doubt — first, second and third — civility."
Al Corzine, a retired bicycle shop owner, expanded on Colchamiro's response: "For me the answer to all the questions is humility. As I age, it becomes ever more clear that neither I nor the village nor the state nor the nation nor the world has a complete answer to the problems we face. To arrogantly believe an answer is correct or better or more thoughtful is foolish. We compound the situation when we tune out, belittle or view with contempt positions we don't agree with or like. If we could all learn to hear with empathy, respect and humility, maybe we could build some bridges to a little better world."
Sherrell focused on an "appreciation of the many people who work behind the scenes to make us safe, especially in the light of the recent bombings in Russia."
After stating clearly that she feels privileged to live in this country, Koko took aim at elected officials. "I would love to see term limits on all levels of elected officials," she said, "to see our elected officials agree to abide by the same laws the rest of the citizens must obey and accept the same health care and other benefits we all are eligible to receive. These changes should include limits on amounts of money and who can give it to finance a political campaign. Election to state and federal office should not be a place where only the very wealthy can afford to run and serve."
Raymond said, "Change our country? Where to begin? Let's spend less on a war economy and more on education and renewing our transportation and basic infrastructure. Technology, with its many good points, also has its dangers in terms of the increasing surveillance of the public and a sense that no one can be trusted. We should all work toward elimination of guns other than in the hands of responsible public safety workers."
Palese added that we need to govern by the rule of law. We need to put an end to what he referred to as "minority" politicians, issues and beliefs — e.g. the Tea Party — preventing the country from moving forward."
Ernie Hines — who described himself as singer, songwriter, entertainer and Christian — said the nation needs to return to its moral underpinnings.
"Today," he lamented, "what used to be wrong is OK and no one had better say different. Let us raise the bar of righteousness that's falling fast and show our children that not any and everything goes."
When asked what she wished for the world, Raymond replied, "Peace, peace and more peace."
"May we continue to avoid conflict with Syria, Iran and others," Radzilowski added, "and end our insane war in Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Sherrell said his peacemaking priority is the Holy Land. "I wish for an international effort to defuse the Middle East," he said, "starting with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan."
The question that demands to be asked in terms of peacemaking is, of course, "How in the world do we make that vision a reality?"
Raymond said the road to peace goes through the United Nations. She added that we should learn from other countries and also choose more carefully which world leaders we support.
"Choosing sides in this world of constant change is dangerous," she said, adding, "Instead of 'tribal warfare' in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, we should see people pulling together on the basis of common goals." The key to all of this, she contends, is "education."
Louise Corzine referenced Martin Buber, stating that the key is "less cellphone usage and more I-Thou communication. The most precious gift we have to give is our presence to each other."
Radzilowski said, "Lord, help us to realize we cannot solve other people's problems by getting them to act more like us — 99.9% of Muslims share the same vision we have for how to treat each other. We must avoid concentrating on the .1 percent who do not. There is, I suspect, a similar proportion of people who have the same adjustment problems in the U.S."
Johnson spoke for several respondents in wishing that people would "realize that climate change is real and happening now."
Colchamiro, who is a member of the CROP Hunger Walk planning team, said simply, "We need more caring for people less fortunate."
Palese believes the key is governance. "Nations," he said, "need to govern based on a government of the people, by the people and for the people no matter what form of government the people decide they want."
Perhaps the most unconventional, out-of-the-box wish came in the form of an email Hines forwarded from a 53-year-old named Neil Gaiman:
"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world."