Good News From Upstate New York

Reading the news, sometimes it seems like only bad things are happening to us good people. The endless stream of conflict and catastrophe has a discouraging, even depressing, effect. Nor is it necessarily an accurate perception of what’s happening in the world. At any given time, in most places, nobody is getting beheaded and the earth isn’t splitting open under our feet.

But life going on as usual isn’t news, we are told. Nor does it sell newspapers. People want to know the bad news; and if you tell them too much good news they will stop buying your newspaper. Not only because they find bad news more exciting, but they will even stop believing you, suspecting you of scanning the wires for happy stories to make artificial filler for the news columns.

Take, for example, the story this week of a woman in Schenectady, New York who thought of a way to deal with post-winter potholes besides just grumbling about them. Some local residents, frustrated by the slow pace of municipal street repair, took the matter into their own hands, literally, by filling in the craters themselves. This, in itself, is commendable. The citizenry shows that it will not be at the mercy of the sluggards in city hall. They have not lost the get-up-and-go, can-do spirit that made upstate New York great. Or at least paved.

But Elaine Santore added her own flourish: She, too, filled potholes, with dirt — and pansies — hardy, cold-tolerant and colorful flowering plants. Her message got across. The 10 holes she had thus adorned were subsequently filled in by city crews.

“I knew something would happen to them,” she said. “Either people would take the flowers, or they would be filled in.”

To be sure, it’s not a solution to the problem of potholes. The city still has to see to it that timely repairs are made. That’s what the taxpayers’ money is supposed to pay for. But her way of calling attention to the problem was innovative and esthetic, and it worked. Maybe, going forward, the city will do better.

The truth is — and this is newsworthy — that it shows how people do often respond to problems — not only with complaints, angry protests and violence, but with a constructive attitude and a feel for beauty.

We said Elaine Santore made her statement with a flourish. The word flourish — meaning, in this case, to do something in a decorative way — derives from the Latin florere, to bloom or blossom. People who live their lives with flourish, who seek not only utility but beauty, not only for themselves but for others as well, are actually making good news all the time, even if it’s not always being reported.