“Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.”
Samuel Johnson is the 18th century writer who was called "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history." He once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” If that’s true, I’m a blockhead. I may earn barely enough from my writing to be entitled to call myself a “professional writer,” but not enough to match the widow’s mite.
Five years ago the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (WTE) invited me to write weekly columns. The years have come and gone. Those weekly submissions now number more than 250 published columns. Samuel Johnson would ask, “Why do it but for the money?”
Reader reaction is one answer. And it comes. A surprising amount is positive. Many critical responses are thoughtful. There are exceptions with common themes such as “if you don’t like Wyoming, you can leave.” Some wonder sarcastically whether I know how many people disagree with my opinions. The question answers itself. Why bother to write if you’re saying only what readers find agreeable?
Recall the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Emperor's New Clothes.” The emperor is naked. Everyone sees he’s wearing nothing. No one says anything, fearing they’ll be ostracized. A young child finally blurts it out, "The emperor has no clothes!"
When you’re willing to acknowledge that aloud, it makes some readers uncomfortable. One asked, “Given your familiarity with Wyoming, I wonder if you would be able to write an article on what you like about Wyoming.”
Wyoming doesn’t need another cheerleader. There are plenty of others happily filling that important role. There are fewer willing to acknowledge the state of the emperor’s attire.
To be clear, I don’t claim to be the only one speaking up. Fortunately, the WTE permits diverse voices to be heard. Alas, much of Cheyenne and Wyoming is happier when “never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
But, as the reader noted, I am familiar with Wyoming and it’s that familiarity that compels me to write what I do.
I’ve lived here some 65 years. I’ve seen Wyoming from a wide variety of perspectives including 10 years in the legislature, practicing law in Wyoming courtrooms for 20 years, lobbying in the state house for 22 years, and having been an ordained minister for 17 years. Perhaps it’s just me, but there seems to be more injustice than justice for too many Wyoming families.
The most poignant experiences came in my eight years as director of the Department of Family Services and heading the state’s mental health and substance abuse initiatives. Administering child welfare and poverty programs, and working with families impacted by disabilities, low-wage jobs, discrimination, addiction, and/or mental illness, brought me face-to-face with people on the sidelines.
God has a plan for our lives, a plan revealed over a lifetime. One door closes. Another opens. We weave our way through life as each experience builds on the next. So it was, a path leading from politics to law and on to seminary studies brought a realization that the Gospel is fundamentally about not remaining silent in the face of injustice.
Lawmakers claiming to care about “the people” demonstrate little concern for their lives. They balance the budget by slashing or eliminating programs for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled while refusing to increase the minimum wage. Knowing layoffs in the mining industry were imminent, they refused to expand Medicaid to help care for unemployed miners.
The more you learn about those of our neighbors who are marginalized, stereotyped, and left behind, the more you feel somebody needs to say it. The “emperors” of the so-called Equality State have no clothes.
Just as there is a common thread among the criticisms of my writing, so it is that the lives of these Wyoming families is a common thread among my columns.