But why was that? I can think of a few thoughts that may have gone through a reluctant friend's head.
- "This doesn't seem interesting or fun." - I can't think of another kid who had a dirt pit in their front yard. You don't dig holes in the yard and think it's fun unless you can see the bigger picture. If you can't or are unwilling to join in the imagining process, it's going to be a long afternoon out there for you.
- "This looks like hard work." - Going out to dig holes in the muggy Louisiana summer was tough. We would sweat like dogs and gulp endlessly from the water hose. If you can't commit to totally-unnecessary-but-yet-absolutely-necessary manual labor, Dirt City is not for you.
- "This is weird." - When your friend invites you over and says, "OK, let's get the shovels and take them out to Dirt City," that's got to be a strange moment. It takes a second, maybe more, to warm up to that idea; and not everyone was up to it.
In short, our most reluctant friends could not see the value of Dirt City. Where we saw a boundless mini-universe, they saw a dirt pit. As excited as we were, we couldn't force someone to like the experience.
More recently, I've found myself deriving an adult version of that joy and satisfaction I felt as a kid. It happened when I met someone starting a small business in Creswell, when I learned a bit of Kinston history that couldn't be found in a book, and when I discussed teacher retention with the Bertie County Schools HR director. When I see someone demonstrating the value of living and working in their small town, I get excited. And I want to help.
And when I see someone roll their eyes or hear them make a disparaging comment about those same towns, it makes me feel like I did when a friend would remind me that Super Nintendo was more fun than Dirt City. Yes, living in a city has its perks, but small towns bring my imagination to life in a way that cities simply don't.
This year, I've begun to embrace the notion that small towns are like Dirt City. They benefit when more residents and visitors see them with an eye not only on what is but what could be and actively strive for that. So if you're out there, if you're from there, or if you're interested in learning more - let's all grab a shovel and get to work.