The Common Good–Megan Helbling

My favorite thing about Colorado is the warning signs of steep grades on the highways coming in and out of the mountains.

TRUCKERS! ARE YOUR BRAKES COOL AND READY? NEXT 5 MILES STEEP GRADES.

HANG ON TRUCKERS! YOU’RE NOT THERE YET. 7% GRADE NEXT 3 MILES.

CHAIN LAWS IN EFFECT! PULL OVER NEXT 2 MILES TO AVOID BIG FINES. BE SAFE!

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave us these warnings?

HUMANS! TOUGH DAYS IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS AHEAD. STAY IN BED WITH YOUR COVERS PULLED TIGHT.

WOMEN! CATCALLER AROUND THE NEXT CORNER. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

7% COST OF LIFE INCREASE IN 2019! START SAVING NOW.

I recently read an article about the common good, the thesis of which was essentially: no one gives a damn about the common good anymore. Yesterday, I stopped to read a note written on a napkin squished against the sidewalk. It read, “THIS WAS A TERRIBLE PARKING JOB. THINK ABOUT OTHERS MORE THE NEXT TIME YOU PARK”. In a world of anonymous individualism, it’s easy to feel like no one cares about anyone they don’t know the name of.

Here’s a poem by Louise Gluck:

You want to know how I spend my time?

I walk the front lawn, pretending

to be weeding. You ought to know

I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling

clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact

I’m looking for courage, for some evidence

my life will change, though

it takes forever, checking

each clump for the symbolic

leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already

the leaves turning, always the sick trees

going first, the dying turning

brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform

their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?

As empty now as at the first note.

Or was the point always

to continue without a sign?

Maybe the problem with working for the ‘common good’ (whatever the heck that means) is that it takes the innocent, vulnerable, foolish, naive belief that what is common is good, what is communal is good, and that even though she’s mostly failing, the idiot who parked next to you is actually trying to be good. With that kind of soft attitude in this hard world, you’ll be as vulnerable to being plucked off as a dandelion in damp soil.

But weeding is what makes the flowers grow.

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