Looking ahead with a bow to Year 2000

Comment

January 07, 2001|By C. FRASER SMITH

MISUNDERSTOOD and misidentified at birth, the year 2000 produced moments of high achievement while demanding the soberest reflections.

Y2K survived a claim it never made for itself: start of the new millennium. And it did not face the humiliation of bringing the cyber world to its knees.

One week into 2001, it may still profit us all to take stock of the previous 12 months with the usual eye toward self-improvement. We must express our thanks for contributions made by Howard County residents new and old: to the commonwealth, to its extraordinary ethic of public participation, to its rich cultural and sporting life. Among other things:

Columbia's Elise Ray, the U.S. Olympic Team gymnast, showed real class in Australia. Injured and then bedeviled by misaligned equipment, she stood as an exemplar of Olympic purpose.

In the final competition, she encountered a vault apparatus set too low. She tried again, knowing that a medal was out of reach but determined to do her very best.

"I don't think we have to have a medal around our necks to have pride," she said. Ms. Ray made us proud from the start with her poise and focus.

Medals do have their value, of course.

North Laurel's Alfred V. Rascon finally got his last year -- the Congressional Medal of Honor demanded by several of the men whose lives he saved in Vietnam.

In what Mr. Rascon described as "10 minutes of pure hell," he moved a dying soldier to safety, used his body to shield comrades from shrapnel, retrieved a machine gun and 400 rounds of ammunition about to be seized by the enemy, treated the wounded, directed an evacuation and then collapsed from loss of blood. He was so badly wounded himself that he received last rites.

President Clinton hung the medal around his neck in a White House ceremony.

Others who deserve our respect include County Councilman Guy Guzzone and citizen John Adolphsen, a retired NASA engineer who helped to lead a citizen's protest of the huge mixed-use development in Fulton known as Maple Lawn Farms. Mr. Adolphsen and his mates knew more about the zoning laws, it seemed, than the county's fleet of lawyers.

But, in the end, someone in authority had to make a judgment. That fell to Councilman Guzzone, the council's swing vote, who officiated over a 33-session review of developer Stewart Greenebaum's proposal.

Some wanted to hang the councilman in infamy and promised to break his political kneecaps at the next election. Fair enough, perhaps, to hold elected officials to what you think they have promised.

No less impassioned than his mates, Mr. Adolphsen's comments seemed never to cross the boundary between civil protest and abusive ranting.

Officialdom in Howard got a boost from the new superintendent of schools, John R. O'Rourke.

He promised to collect individual reports on every third-grader in the county who is behind in reading or math.

Taking "personal responsibility" for each person on the list, Mr. O'Rourke redefined accountability.

The importance of Mr. O'Rourke's mission needs no amplification. Still, we learn it anew when young people are lost to forces which seem beyond us but leave us wondering what we might have done or should do now.

Could someone have saved Robyn Weiss, the talented high school student who committed suicide? She left 150 poems and at least two novels -- some solace for those who loved her.

"She knew she was loved, and not just by us," her brave mother, Jacki Edens, said. "We knew she was depressed, and we were very proactive in treating it. She was seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. She was being medicated. We always asked her, `Are you feeling suicidal?' But sometimes, no matter what you do, you can't stop someone. That's what is so scary."

Dr. Helen Lann, director of psychiatric services at Howard County General Hospital, says, "A week doesn't go by I don't hear about someone, teens especially, trying to kill themselves in Howard County."

Robyn showed us the importance of loving advisers, people like her parents, Dr. O'Rourke and another poet, Columbia's Lucille Clifton, another of the county's Year 2000 award winners.

Her poems of love and loss won her the prestigious National Book Award. The value of such awards, we see, goes beyond the momentary honor and must be close to what the poet wants most: more people to read her work, and more to find hope in words that show the pain and joy common to us all.

If we would despair of ourselves, or community or of humanity, Ms. Clifton will not allow it.

Finally, if medals and words won't do it for you, how about "anointed meat?"

You can get it from William Burley, who runs a barbecue stand in the Columbia neighborhood of Guilford. The 67-year-old master griller doubles as community father, keeping an eye on the neighborhood's young people. He's basting them, in a sense, with wisdom and love.

Mr. Burley's place on Oakland Mills Road endures in a romantic mist of memory -- and "torturously" alluring aromas.

"I live as close to the Ten Commandments as I can," he said.

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials for The Sun from Howard County.

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