Like the proverbial accident that one can’t turn away from, I read every word of n+1′s Hartford, Connecticut article despite my disgust. I was simultaneously struck by the deftness with which it was written and the relentlessness with which it railed. So many words poured out for the seemingly single purpose of painting an utterly despairing picture! Why, I wondered. Still, after so many futile months spent trying to find a home into which my family and I can settle, I thought, “Disaster averted. Pack the bags. Get out quick!” Thank you, author, for saving me from making an egregious mistake.
But time, of course, ushers in clearheaded thinking, if you allow it.
And I did.
I am not from Hartford, as the author claims to be. In fact I have only lived in this city for just over a year, but even as a recent transplant, when the dust of this essay settled I was offended to the core by the unyielding, unending, and untrue invective that it proffers. I have no interest in reviewing, much less debating, each vilification, point by point. But I will say this: I am surprised that this city has not crumbled under the weight of an oppressive negative energy that infects it from within and without. This article is just one more block on the ever-growing Jenga pile. Never have I seen so many people revel in the perceived – and predicted! – failure of the hometown, seemingly oblivious to the fact that as they revel in those failures they are rooting against themselves. Even now, as the turmoil of the stadium project fills the daily headlines, naysayers clamor to be the first Chicken Little to proclaim the happy news that all is lost. It’s like watching The Big Short in real life with everyone betting against the team, betting against the town, plunking down their metaphorical money to short the stadium. Only in this case the people doing the shorting won’t cash in big if they are right. In fact, quite the opposite. And if they are wrong – and I fervently hope they are – they will be the ones who occupy the seats once the stadium is complete.
I am absolutely confounded by the purpose of the author’s essay, but since it sparked me to write this one in return, I’d like to be utterly clear about my purpose. In the time that has transpired since moving to Hartford, my husband, my daughter, and I have developed a deep and unexpected affection for this town and its unheralded assets. Among those, I could list historical significance, architectural beauty, a remarkably robust and accomplished arts scene, a plethora of free and recurring social, educational, and entertaining events. But those are not the ones that keep us here, not the ones that prod us to keep looking for our elusive downtown dwelling, not the ones that prevent us every day from returning our sights to a home search in Boston. Those are not, in fact, Hartford’s greatest asset.
Once a month, my husband and I attend LWL Hartford meetings. They are primarily “engineered” by Peter DeMallie. I say “engineered” because Peter begins each meeting by reminding attendees that LWL Hartford (LWL Hartford, by the way, stands for Living, Working, Loving Hartford) is not an entity, that there is no Board, no budget, no administration, and he does not want – in fact, won’t take – any money. It’s like Fight Club, except we’re allowed to talk about it. The meetings, which are run like clockwork and are usually hosted, free of charge, by Infinity Hall, begin with socializing but always feature a speaker who is spearheading some major project aimed at improving Hartford’s landscape in some significant way. Every time I leave a meeting I am rallied, encouraged, and inspired by what I hear, but more so by what I perceive: a brilliant, selfless, motivated, productive, proactive, kind, concerned, and vigorous citizenry, who are well aware that there are deeply disturbing issues afoot, in Hartford, like in all cities, in Hartford, like in the world, but rather than rail against them they are doing something about them.
You see, that is what a city is, just a collection of people. And in Hartford’s case, that is saying quite a bit! Remember that when you mock Hartford; you are mocking people, people I am deeply honored to call my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors. This town, this tiny, “crime-infested,” “poverty-stricken,” always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride town is peopled by a diverse community of determined, invested, can-do men and women who are chipping away at every concern all the time, and, more importantly, celebrating every success all the time too. You only need to look past your own disapproving nose and listen beyond the joyfully disparaging jeers to find them. Once you do, they will welcome you with open arms, and just like us, you will be loath to release yourself.