816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider on breaking the rules

I’m breaking the rules.

When I took this space nearly five years ago I asked my editor, “What should I write about?”

I was hoping for guidance, wisdom and basic direction but instead I was given only one answer: “Don’t write about town meetings.”

Guess what I did last week? But this isn’t a dry tale of local politics or issues that only affect the populace of my town (less than 10,000…salute!) No, it’s a story of determination and action; of selfies and friendship.

You have a friend like Mary Jo; I know you do. The one who is usually happy — not in the “overly medicated” way, but in an “I roll with life like a 5-year-old-down-a-hill” way. As a parent she lovingly encourages her kids to be true to themselves, even if it’s not the path she would have sent them on, and you deeply admire her ability to ride the downs by focusing on the ups.

She is rarely argumentative or visibly upset and she laughs at things that would make you flip out, which earns her the position as poster woman for likable.

Then one day, in a long-running stream of close family Facebook posts, she admits she had recently made some enemies.

What? No.

Yes! Seems she spoke out on another page about a town service that had been frustrating her and she was met with opposition. On the Scale of Life, this service, while necessary, is on the lower end. Her problem wasn’t uncommon for anyone, anywhere, and people either wait until it’s corrected or learn to live with the flaws.

But Mary Jo had had enough. She felt that because a service was being paid for, it should be provided as contracted without her having to make frequent phone calls to increasingly ambivalent customer service representatives.

Just a few days later Mary Jo and I were in my car headed to a town meeting.

At this point surely you are expecting a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Norma Rae or Erin Brochovich story. In reality it was more Thelma and Louis or Lucy and Ethel.

Pulling into her driveway felt very Girls’ Night Out, not civic duty. We chatted about kids and lives; we met people before the meeting, giggled while we took a selfie, and then quietly passed notes of comment during the proceedings.

Despite what my imagination insists, town meetings are nothing like they are in Mayberry or Stars Hollow: There was a lot of proper meeting speak, a lot of acronym speak and a lot of speaking that was, quite frankly, eye-droop inducing. Thankfully the mayor frequently banged his gavel to keep people awake (pretty sure that’s not why he used it).

When we do something out of our ordinary lives with people we see only in our ordinary lives, naturally they get cast in a different light.

That’s what happened when Mary Jo eventually had her say. My laid-back, roll-with-it friend was still there, but she had taken on a professional air to which I’ve never been privy. She stood up for what she thought was right even though she knew others in the room disagreed with her. She had done her homework, researched everything and delivered a well-written three-minute statement.

Bold. Impassioned. Smart and eloquent.

Sometimes a belief in something, trivial or important, makes you break out of your comfort zone.

Sometime you get to break out of your ordinary and admire your friends in a new light.

Sometimes you have to break the rules to make a point.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. For more of her writing, go to thehistorychicks.com.