To my friends, Willamette Heights neighbors, and loved ones,
I’m writing because I know no other way to express my sadness clearly and even if it’s only one voice, I would like to be heard.
I was dismayed about the potential loss to our neighborhood and community of a space that contains so many pieces of my childhood. I saw the threat to community, and to a rare and precious building block of what we cherish so dearly. I signed the petition, hoping that an intervention might change the direction of history, that the weight of our voices would be enough to help a young couple change their minds.
Immediately, I also wondered how directly we had been able to communicate with them. The more I researched the more I realized how similar they were to myself, and other children of our community. We inhabited the same space in time, even if not the same location. I’m sure I can relate to many of their experiences and memories, and I hoped that there was the possibility of reconciliation. That instead of being a threat, they could be welcomed into the community.
Our neighborhood has a history of accepting new people- waves of immigrants have come at different periods seeking similar things from the place they choose to live. I was the child of speculators, and remodelers, and yet I was welcome, as were my parents.
I understand that modifying the status quo is not the same as destroying and rebuilding, and I felt the same fear that the place of my memories would no longer be available. Many of you know how my childhood home no longer resembles the place I grew up, and the distress it has caused. But there is a new family there now, and they love the place as it is now as much as I loved it as it was before.
For me, Willamette Heights has always been about the people who live there. The architecture and the landscape are important, but what makes it a home is the community-the faces that grow and age but remain smiling and happy to see you. The houses have been the backdrop, but the real magic is in the events in those homes, and the continuity of connection year after year.
This is what I have found most distressing this week. For a place that claims community as a differentiator we have not been very community minded. Kevin and Darya are a young couple who had no way of knowing the expectations that came with the house they purchased, how could they? We don’t list neighborhood Easter Egg hunts on a spec sheet, and there is no written statute that says they must participate. I too would hope they would want that, but after their treatment this week I understand why that choice would be unthinkable.
People must choose to be a part of a community. A measured response from us might have engendered that choice. It might not. I freely admit that, but I also believe that either way it needed to be for them to decide.
Early on I hoped that they just didn’t realize how people felt, that a natural unawareness of this context led to choices that others were unhappy about. Optimistically I thought that perhaps they didn’t realize that community was on the table. That in return for modifying plans for their individual space they would be offered a precious alternative- a welcome to a community that I have been proud of. But watching as this story became increasingly sensational, as people tangentially related became involved and used our small drama as a soapbox for other issues I became both disheartened and ashamed.
I don’t think they came off in this story nearly as badly as we did. We had the opportunity to be transformative, to attempt some form of reconciliation or mediation. To truly practice the sense of community we espouse. We failed.
Many of you knew my mother. Many of you attended her memorial where we passed out cards of her most important philosophy ‘both/and’. I have seen many of the cards still in your homes years later. This was an opportunity for us to try to inhabit that and make choices allowing space for both perspectives. To keep thinking that we could find a solution that wouldn’t end with lawyers and media storms.
We vilified a young couple internationally, and for what? To save a house? To ‘protect’ our community? Did we really think they were so deaf, or so willful that they would choose to live in a space after knowing the neighbors felt so negatively? Did we think they would destroy the house for spite?
Many have been silent, many have said things that upon reflection they would take back or modify. We had the opportunity to have a truly civil discourse, and we missed. There are lots of reasons for that; emotions run high over community, history, in- and out- groups and, above all, money.
I don’t hope for any specific outcome from this- after all, it really has little to do with me and I trust that those people actually involved will come to some resolution, most likely with everyone walking away unhappy. I walk away sad, ashamed of how we treated people who could just as easily have become one of us, might have been if not for a number of accidents or coincidences that took us in different directions.
I needed to speak because it is important to have different voices in any functional community. Many have spoken for me this week, some I know and some I’ll never meet. I wanted to speak for myself and offer an alternative perspective.
Thank you for reading.