I’ve seen the best of Sanford, I’ve seen the worst of Sanford. My fellow citizens  are charitable, kind and thoughtful but at times they are capable of extreme pettiness and boorish behavior.

I’m channeling Charles Dickens because I’m experiencing a tale of two Sanfords.

Since my stroke 5 weeks ago, I have received unbelievable support from the people of Sanford. Concurrently, I have witnessed the contempt with which some of these same people treat their neighbors.

The reason? People have a difference of opinion about a proposed development on Marina Island.

I’ve come to the realization that Sanford will not be a better community regardless of the outcome of this proposal.

A good community is not defined by buildings or things but by people and relationships. Sanford has a great historic district, a  beautiful waterfront and a quaint downtown. For that matter, so does Mt. Dora, Tavares and Palatka.

The thing that sets Sanford apart from those cities – and the reason why I love Sanford – is its people.

People like those who invited their neighbors into their homes for a hot meal, a cold drink or a cool place to sleep during the 2004 hurricanes. 

People like those who make up the Bokey Bike Mob because what’s better than cruising around town on your bike on a Wednesday night. (Bokey Key Bike Mob)

People like the downtown business owner who posts on Facebook asking if Ronnie is okay. And the people who respond in minutes saying that Ronnie is alive and well.

And the folks who bring home-made dinners to their sick or injured neighbors.

And the guys who participated in the Mayfair 500 riding lawn mower race in the Mayfair neighborhood on Super Bowl Sundays, because what else are you going to do during all the pre-game hype.

And the business owner who forms her own “gang” to pick up trash along the side of the road once a month.

And the two dozen people who show up at my house with beer and wine on a moment’s notice to help me eat a cooler full of freshly-caught seafood (on a Monday night, no less).

And the people who hatched the idea of creating a world-class film festival in Sanford while playing Dan The Man Trivia at a tiny table in a crowded bar.

And the people  who organize their own illuminated bicycle parade at Christmas just because it’s fun.

And the local restaurant owner who quitely donates food to an after-school program so that the kids have a healthy snack.

And the hundreds of people who show up on a Sunday afternoon to watch their friends and neighbors race sofas. (Click here to learn more about sofa race.)

And the dozens of people over the years who have invited me to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners because they know I don’t have family living in the area.

There are many reasons to love the people of Sanford: their diversity, their genorosity, their creativity, their gusto for life, their frankness. I could go on and on.

Yet not a single one of those reasons are predicated on what is built or not built on Marina Island.

There are a number of Sanford residents who are are as much my family as my biological family. And like a biological family, they are  driving me as crazy as a character in a Flannery O’Connor story.

The snarky comments, the over-heated rhetoric and the implied accusations coming from both sides are enough to make me want to say, “To hell with all of you.”

I’m not suggesting everyone gather around a campfire in Ft Mellon Park, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” (Some of us can’t carry a tune, and no one needs to hear that.)

Honestly, I’m not even advocating we all have to like each other.

But there is no excuse for failing to treat others with at least a modicum of decency.

As Sanford residents, we often bemoan the negative perception of our town by those who live outside of Sanford. Some of that negativity is our own fault.

Sanford is a great place, and we all want to make it better. Sometimes we’re going to disagree on how best to do that.

Let us not be afraid to debate those differences because the issues are important. (Whether it’s Marina Island or any other issue.)

However, we must conduct those debates with respect and courtesy, never forgetting that a difference of opinion does not constitute a moral failing or sinister plot by those with whom we disagree. Sanford is still a small town in many respects, and we all have to live wth each other once the debates have ended.

Let’s put as much effort into strengthening our relationships with each other  as we do on “winning” the issues-of-the-day. That requires each of us to take the first step and set the example for others to follow.

Sanford will never be as great as it can be until that is accomplished.

– By Dan Ping

Advertisements