A Rough Winter Interrupted by Hope or Another Reason to Love this City

Train, Knoxville, Winter, 2014
Train, Knoxville, Winter, 2014

As some of you have likely figured, I’ve been walking down to Jackson Avenue and the train yards to take photographs of the disintegration or decimation of the McClung Warehouses. I’ll have more on that in the coming days. It’s a depressing trek. It’s been cold out until the last few days, the reason for the walk is sad.

And it comes on the heels of a number of unfortunate developments or un-developments in the city. Pryor Brown Garage still seems to be headed for destruction, Lucille’s and the buildings on Walnut fell. Another on Broadway went down quickly and with little comment. Trouble continues to brew in Fort Sanders with more homes in danger there. It’s easy to lose hope at times.

But there is always hope and there is always a reminder of the reasons we love this little city. Sometimes it’s a splashy event and sometimes it’s a quiet, personal moment, but there’s always something to bring us back. I had one of those moments this week and it’s thanks to a local business. It came as I walked back from the site of the warehouses and passed the Southeastern Glass Building. I noticed something on the windows I’ve passed dozens of times without seeing.

Wendell Berry Quote, Synergy, Knoxville, 2014
Wendell Berry Quote, Synergy, Knoxville, 2014

It was a quote from Wendell Berry, of all things. On the side of a building that itself could have fallen to demolition, but is now filled with homes and businesses. The business on the bottom floor is Synergy Business Environments. I have no idea what that is. I have even less an idea how they decided to put a quote by poet, novelist and philosopher Wendell Berry on their window, but they did:

“By the excellence of his work, the workman is a neighbor.” Simple. Just a little thought for all of us to ponder as we make our way through this little life in this little spot on earth. By doing the very best at what ever we do, we become a neighbor to those around us. I surfed a bit looking up Berryanna and found his poem, “A Poem on Hope.”

Among the lines that speak to us in our city and place are these:

“It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old . . .

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor . . .

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public . . .

There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot . . .

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.”

-Wendell Berry

So, thank you, Synergy Business Environments, for being a neighbor. For choosing to display something that matters on your window. For giving me a small light of hope as I walked through our city. And thank you, Wendell Berry for reminding us of the supreme importance of place and that as we care for it, it cares for us. As we destroy it, we destroy ourselves.

If you’d like to hear Wendell Berry read the entire text of the poem, I’ve posted it below. If you’ve not read his work, I cannot encourage you enough to do so.