Giving thanks to the living

It was weird, walking among houses with Halloween's playful, cartoonish evocations of death, then seeing the very real campaign-sign memorials to Paul Wellstone on the same lawns.

More jarring was the whiplash of rhetoric; from campaign savagery ("Can you trust Paul Wellstone?" How pathetic does that seem now?) to grieving gratitude for a committed public servant. Criticism was not solely the province of hyperbolic opponents; I know many Wellstonians, and in the months before his death, there was some muttered sniping, about the broken two-term promise, about some craven votes (for the Patriot Act and the Defense of Marriage Act) or the inescapable ego that comes with power. Then he died and everyone realized how much we had lost.

In many ways, Paul Wellstone was a singular politician and person, but in lots of ways he wasn't. Six months ago, I was talking to Minneapolis School Board chairwoman Catherine Shreves (see Lynnell Mickelsen's exit interview, opposite page), who was in a tough endorsement battle for a state Senate seat. Shreves had pretty much blown observers away in her first board term; she proved diligent, respectful, intelligent and decisive. For her own reasons - including being where school funding was decided - she wanted to "move up" to the legislature.

Over coffee, Shreves told me that during the campaign, she frequently heard, "How can you do this to us? How can you leave the school board?"

She admitted this was a bit exasperating. From where I sit, being a school board member is easily the worst elected job in town. The hours can be nearly full time for pay that barely tops $10,000, and you earn nearly endless complaints juggling phlegmatic funding, inconsistently raised kids and the suffocating pillow of bureaucracy.

Shreves had shouldered this responsibility for three years. "Some people, instead of saying 'thank you for what you provided,' acted affronted that I was leaving," she said in a moment of genuine human frustration.

I gulped. I, too, was wondering how she could do this to us, and "thank you" was not in the forefront of my mind. Talk about whiplash.

I've thought a lot about that moment. Yes, there are plenty of sycophants in politics, ready to tell the powerful exactly what they want to hear. And there are too few credible press watchdogs to provide intelligent correctives to misguided or misrepresented policies that harm real people.

But that doesn't mean biting ankles is all we journalists can do. Through several editors, the Southwest Journal has earned trust as a place where the great things in the community are reflected -- see this week's cover story, or the story of parents who battled bigotry, page 12, or a Southwest neighborhood volunteer who wrote an award-winning Christmas carol, page 39 -- not just the worrisome things.

But I think right now, there's room for more outright gratitude.

And here, I need your help. On Dec. 19, we publish our last issue of the year; I'd like to make part of it a "Thank You" edition.

The concept is simple: you (and we) will write a thank you, no more than 250 words, to someone who has done something good for the community in 2002.

This is a public thing, so you must sign your name, send us your contact info (including address, phone number and neighborhood if you know its name).

The entries that get published will be the ones written so that the rest of us can appreciate the good things this nominee has done for Minneapolis, and especially Southwest. We'll print the most compelling ones.

Your "thank you" can go to an unsung heroes like your mailman, your neighbor, your coffeeshop server or the public employee who exemplifies public service.

Of course, worthy politicians are eligible, although remember, your nomination must be genuine and convincing; suck-ups go to the bottom of the pile!

A few caveats. Please don't nominate a family member, or anyone at the Southwest Journal.

Please submit your thank-you by Wednesday, Dec. 4. E-mail is the most convenient -- info@swjournal.com, subject line: Thank You.

You can also mail your writing to:

Thank You,

3225 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 55408. You can also fax them to my attention at

825-0929.

I hope the issue will warm the holiday season, and remind us that good people are a major reason to love life.