Near dawn this Christmas week, an old friend meandered back through the ghostly byways of the heavens into my fitful dreams. For the magical Wonder Dog, Dory, it was the first holiday call on the state of things since the start of the Great Pandemic.  

The Ancient Scribe was overjoyed. He had become convinced that his faithful friend had somehow fallen into a black hole at the far reaches of the Metaverse and never would emerge.

But here she was bursting with earthly energy and the insight one can gain only from a lofty distance, say billions and billions of light years away. Her mood was a bit darker than it’s ever been but as she warmed to her task, her message became decidedly more cheery as she felt closer to home. Here’s how the conversation flowed.

Wonder Dog: New Bedford is going to be OK. I really think so. I can’t say the same thing about the planet. So many ills and so little time to solve them. Just think of climate change, the rising seas, ever hotter, less hospitable to aquatic life, spawning gigantic storms and floods, expanding deserts, making new ones, draining historic aquifers, not just in America but everywhere. It means hunger and thirst and mass migration and social resistance and desperation and more calculated cowardice and demagoguery and dysfunction as the political order breaks down.

The world needs more heroes; what it’s getting are not more Zelenskys but more cowards intent on power and status. Fear reigns.

The Ancient Scribe: That’s appalling. You sound like a canine Cassandra.

WD: Well, It doesn’t have to be so bleak. Moral giants can take the stage, even Lincolnesque figures so far unknown. The good breaks through unexpectedly, a social survival reflex. People learn. They remember. That’s why I’m upbeat on New Bedford.. It’s one of those soulful places that can turn things around. It knows how because it’s been through so much hardship over the years. History happens here. Again and again. It’s a small place with a big sense of the world. The sea does that. It keeps its ports connected. Remember the Boston Tea Party.

TAS: Didn’t that happen in Boston?

WD:  Wouldn’t have happened at all without the Beaver and the Dartmouth. Who do you think owned those tea ships? A New Bedford guy named Rotch, that’s who? You won’t find many big stories, and I do mean big stories, without a New Bedford angle. No wonder the British wanted us destroyed. We are connected. We count as a free, independent city, inventive, welcoming, daring, free people, free labor.

TAS: Today is different. Times change. We are not what we were in prior centuries.

WD: Maybe, but people don’t change that much and not so much. Besides, New Bedford still has the same great harbor …  only much cleaner. It’s about to get a train to and from Boston. It’s become a destination city, after all those years of trying. The Z’s become a major entertainment center between Boston and Providence. The city enjoys a vibrant cultural life with a fine regional symphony orchestra, good restaurants, magnetic museums, historic sights, galleries and shops. I can go on.

TAS: You didn’t mention wind. Some folks say that’s the future. 

WD: That’s a complicated matter, wind. I wish I knew more about it. I suppose if everything goes as well as the backers say it will, New Bedford will be fine, I guess. It could prove to be the home run we’ve been waiting for the city to hit for years, like we believed with the casino and the Oceanarium. No doubt something really big will happen here, sooner or later. Maybe it will be the wind industry but maybe it’ll be nuclear fusion, sooner or later. We’ll see. Foreign investment is big in our fishery. Let’s see how much capital gets invested in wind.

TAS: Any more to add?

WD: Yea, some advice: The mayor should get more transparent and share all the hard facts and figures that are the vital signs on how the city is going and adopt a policy of reality sharing through his administration. BTW, the City Council should start thinking big and bold instead of often acting like we are mired in the 1990s. We are almost through a fourth of a new century.

And finally, we should remember all the good things that happened in 2022.

The public began speaking more loudly and clearly about a county office and proved it could fight the invisible machinery that normally lets a select few dominate each election. Something to build on.

Our city’s gifted people began showing up in the city’s creative and political life, bringing fresh eyes to chronic urban problems and across the board.

The Star Store got saved for the city and UMass.

And lest I forget, we now have a new digital instrument of news and information, The Light, just finishing its first full year of operation. That’s major.

Change is coming faster than a man your age might realize. A whole new generation of talented young people is putting its shoulder to the wheel around here. Change is a-coming. It really is. A lot of it is already here.

And, in a flash, Dory vanished, as suddenly as she appeared. Her cry of Happy New Year echoed from far, far away.

Ken Hartnett is the former editor of The Standard-Times and founder emeritus of The New Bedford Light.

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