In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope captured dramatic images of gas formations in the Eagle Nebula, approximately 7,000 light-years away from Earth. One of these images became known as the "Pillars of Creation"—an awe-inspiring demonstration of star formation, of literal creation in the vastness of the universe.
More recently, scientists have patiently explained to us that the pillars ceased to exist around 6,000 years ago. A supernova destroyed them, but vast distances and the speed of light mean that we haven't noticed yet. It'll be another 1,000 years or so before we see what's there now, er, or what used to be there after the pillars were destroyed—or something. Our human sense of time and generally self-indulgent perspective makes understanding the bigger picture hard for our egocentric brains.
We struggle with a similarly myopic perception when it comes to viewing our own culture, our own government, our own sense of place and potential, even when dealing with something as theoretically tangible as city government. We can't see that the policies, priorities and strategies we rely on today—even those we may view as new—mostly ceased to be effective and applicable years or decades ago.
This is the point in the opinion piece where I flesh out my grand metaphor with some hard-hitting analyses of how we're stuck in unproductive, argumentative cyclic debates about taxation, about budget management, about valuing stasis over progress. This is where I convince you that, together, we need to take bold steps forward in the upcoming municipal elections—to support a bond issue that makes sense for everyone, even if we're afraid of the economy; to consider that enthusiasm sometimes has more value than experience; to demand the city charter be cracked open so we can fix some big problems left over from decades-old stale thinking.
But I can't.
Like trying to wrap my head around staring at an incomprehensible stellar object that no longer exists, the violent and sudden death of Ethaan Boyer simultaneously clarified and shattered my sense of Santa Fe [SFReporter.com, Feb. 24: "CONFIRMED: Homicide Victim Was Ethaan Boyer, 34"].
I had the privilege of doing a small amount of work with Ethaan. I had known his stats on paper beforehand—a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley; a savvy design professional; a commitment to community; an entrepreneurial spirit; a desire and drive to translate his love for Santa Fe into the 5♥5 (5 heart 5) brand he was in the nascent stages of promoting; a walking, talking pillar of creation. But working side by side with him, I also learned about his energetic and flexible mind, his absolutely giving and charitable nature. Ethaan had the capacity to generate good ideas and then make them better through reflection, constructive criticism, collaboration and raw creative capacity. He could drop everything and charge toward innovation at a moment's notice, and he could do it with a smile.
He was exactly the type of person we need to attract to Santa Fe and to engage in our city's future. He was precisely the same kind of community-minded, creative-in-the-face-of-adversity, far-sighted soul that has allowed Santa Fe to reinvent itself at key moments in its history. And he was working his ass off to be part of the reinvention we need right now.
The sudden loss of someone we love always reminds us that nothing is certain, that our time to live and experience and do is unknown, but decidedly limited, and that we should never put off for tomorrow what we can do today. So it goes for each of us, and so it goes for the life of a city.
The confluence of issues facing Santa Fe, which are exemplified in this terrible act, is overwhelming. How do we truly empower and nurture people who want nothing more than to make their neighborhoods stronger, their peers and fellows more successful and satisfied? How do we proactively address crime that escalates in frequency and irrationality as desperate, ill and abused people fail to be genuinely included in our equation? How do we reinvent policing policies and realistic support for our first responders—support that we all have to pitch in to pay for—over the lazy revenue generation of speeding tickets and the red herring of austerity?
I'm a 42-year-old, 6-foot-tall, 190-pound bald guy with a relatively bad attitude. When I learned about Ethaan's death, I sobbed so hard that I shit my pants. But so what? Yet another precious Santa Fean is dead—what do I have to be embarrassed about? Only lacking the courage to live the best life I can in the time that I have left. Only that I might be too fearful to join my voice with a chorus and become part of a community greater than the reverberations in my own head.
Whatever you believe in, however you plan to vote, whichever mechanism might express you, take advantage of it; commit to it; and follow through, just as Ethaan did.
The alternative is to one day disappear, leaving only the echo of brightness, visible for a little while longer, through a distant telescope of memory.