I moved out of Lincoln in the fall of 2002 and have lived in East
Peoria since then. I used to think that I was one of the lucky ones
who made it out, but as the years have passed by, I am beginning to
question why I thought that. What caused me to think that? Was I
overcompensating for something my life in East Peoria was failing to
provide? I think I might have been doing just that. It is never easy
to critically think about your own life, but if I am to be honest
about where I want to go in life, I have to be honest about where I
My upbringing was unusual because I lived with my mom,
sister, aunt and grandmother, but I think that is precisely why I had
such a good upbringing. My aunts and uncles were always around, and
my cousins were some of the best friends that I ever had. My mother
and aunt worked like dogs to provide for us, and our life was good.
We had our ups and downs like any family, but what kept our heads
above water was the fact that we relied on each other. My family was
spread out across Lincoln and stretched out to Latham, but the stop
signs and miles that separated us never seemed to matter. We helped
each other when times were good and when times were bad. We helped
each other with electioneering. We helped each other when one of us
was sick. We worked together, and to put it simply, we were an
average family. We were like most of the people in Lincoln who
helped out friends and neighbors when they needed help. The town of
Lincoln provided the atmosphere that my upbringing provided. I
cannot separate my family life with my life in Lincoln. The two will
forever be linked together.
When I think of Lincoln now, I think of the empty buildings up
and down Woodlawn. I think of the way the street that I grew up on
has gone downhill. I see the infrastructure crumbling beneath the
tires of my car. Rightly or wrongly, I used to think of people who
stayed as being trapped with no better options. On my trips down
Interstate 155, I used to thank the Almighty that I was one of the lucky ones
who was spared from a lifetime of living in Lincoln.
I think my
years of aversion to Lincoln have a lot to do with the death of my
mother when I was 21 years old. I had a very difficult time with it.
In a short time span, my sister had moved out of town, my mother
passed away and my aunt moved away to start her own life. When my
aunt moved away, our family home became a fortress against the
responsibilities that awaited me. I was left to my own devices, and I
simply was not ready for the responsibility. I made horrible
decisions that cost me a tremendous amount of pain as well as a
tremendous amount of money. I had hitched my problems to Lincoln and
had blamed the town for my problems and events that were out of my
control. The first 20 years of my life had been hard, but I was
relatively happy, and then in a few short years, I had lost it all. I
lashed out against myself but blamed the town. Time has allowed me
to view myself and Lincoln differently.
When I left Lincoln, I did
not like myself, at least not to the point that I do now. I left
Lincoln alone and with no friends in my new town. I moved to East
Peoria because of a job promotion that I took as a way to start over
again. I thought that my life would be different because I had left
a dying and decaying town behind. I began to feel smug and thought
that I was somehow just a little bit better because now I could look
down upon those poor Lincolnites.
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So you can understand my unadulterated glee that I felt when I
started to read the article by NPR about the state of small-town
America. I would ask, often rhetorically, "Why can't these people in
Lincoln understand that she is using Lincoln as a metaphor?"
I think what caused the article to have such an impact was that
it seemed to come out of left field. The people were caught unaware.
Like me, the people of Lincoln were a little too close to the trees
and therefore could not see the forest. The NPR story was accurate
and the facts cannot be argued against. Crime has risen;
unemployment is a huge problem as well as drugs. The people of
Lincoln cannot bury their heads in the sand to these problems. The
town of Lincoln, and to be more to the point, the city government of
Lincoln, has failed in some way to each citizen. There is a shortage
of new ideas in Lincoln, and that is directly tied to the one-party
system that Lincoln has had for the last 60 years. The spark of new
ideas cannot happen in a vacuum, and this is where we find ourselves.
One party has had an uninterrupted rule for decades now.
This has led to the stagnation that was so easily pointed out by
NPR. I know when I speak with my fellow liberals, I quickly become
bored because it is no fun just agreeing with another version of me.
I need to be challenged. I need to have someone hold my feet to the
fire. This is why I love to talk politics with Republicans. I love
to feel my brain firing on all cylinders. This doesn't happen when I
am in a room full of people just like me. Oh sure, the occasional
good idea may spring forth, but most of the time it doesn't. A new
dynamic is needed to breathe life into this old city.
cannot survive on past accomplishments, and a new way should be
demanded by the people. If the city wants to reverse the image that
was painted by NPR, new ideas are needed and they are needed
quickly. What I see when I drive into town is real. The 15-year-olds
who sell drugs are real too. Getting upset at an article doesn't do
anyone any good.
It is true that Lincoln is a wonderful town and that a few bad
apples do not deserve the right to tarnish the whole bunch. I loved
the small-town living that Lincoln provided me. But just as I knew
that my life wasn't what I wanted, Lincoln has to ask itself the
same questions that I asked myself. Is Lincoln the way that the
people want it? I would guess that the answer would be no. I now
know that I viewed Lincoln through the eyes of an angry young man. I
didn't realize when I lived in Lincoln that I had the power to
change. It wasn't easy to do, but slowly, I was able to change the
parts of me that I no longer liked. If Lincoln wants to be
successful again, they have to acknowledge past mistakes, take
responsibility and change the parts that they no longer like.
Lincoln will not survive if the city council remains to view the
town through the eyes of an angry old man.
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