Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #082. First published in the St. Cloud Times online May 26, 2014; in print May 27

Earlier this month my wife and I and another couple were in Florence, Italy.

Experiencing magnificent art in gallery after gallery — and, indeed, in the museum that Florence itself is — we had moments of "Stendhal Syndrome."

The 19th-century French writer Stendhal reported of his visit to Florence, "Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty ... I had palpitations of the heart … I walked with the fear of falling." Stendhal Syndrome may not be a recognized psychological disorder, but a Google search turns up close to 200,000 hits.

Something else also triggered palpitations of my heart.

I read, online, reports of Gov. Mark Dayton's State of the State speech. Incongruous, you say? Dayton in the context of Leonardo and Botticelli and Michelangelo?

I do not suggest that the speech be put alongside Michelangelo's "David" or Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" or Leonardo's "Adoration of the Magi." What I do detect is a resonance between the governor's words and a statement of the great Florentine leader, Lorenzo de' Medici, written in 1471.

The Renaissance, which burst upon the world in the latter half of the 15th century and was centered in Florence, required not only the talent of artists but the support of politicians and people. A Florence doesn't "just happen."

Like all dynasties, the Medici were a mixed bag. Even Lorenzo was not immune to the temptations of power. But his curiosity, his artistic skill (he was an accomplished poet), and his generosity and gift for friendship served the people of Florence well — they called him "the Magnificent."

And this is where the parallel comes.

Dayton heralded the progress made since his first State of the State, three years ago, when he had said, "I know what we must do to create that better future for all of us. To progress, we have to invest."

In 2011, we were coming off eight years of Gov. Tim Pawlenty telling us just the opposite — we have to cut, slash, retreat. Government is a "they" out to get "us."

Minnesota's 88th Legislature, its work concluded, set us on the course of investing — all of us for all of us.

In 1471, having calculated that his family already had spent the equivalent of a half-billion dollars in today's money supporting Florence — much of it in taxes paid, Lorenzo wrote, "I do not regret this, for though many would consider it better to have a part of that sum in their purse, I consider it to have been a great honor to our state, and I think the money was well-expended and I am well-pleased."

Minnesota is no Tuscany, St. Cloud is no Florence. (Neither, even, is Waite Park.) But we have something to learn from Lorenzo.

A new logo, ST. CLOUD > GREATER, declares both an identity and an aspiration.

We don't achieve "greater" by penny-pinching, by insisting everything be done on the cheap so we can keep more in our individual purses.

There will be much public discussion about the configuration of St. Cloud high schools. It will be a huge pity if the ruling criterion is cost. What's best for students should be determinative, and in reckoning what's "best," the quality and nature of the surroundings needs to figure — both for the students and for the pride we can all take in what is built.

To adapt Lorenzo's words, we need to see what is spent not as something "they" have taken from "us," but as "money well-expended" and "a great honor to our region."

We — all of us — should set the goal of creating here in Central Minnesota, in all dimensions (for example, aquatics and community center, bike and hiking trails, airport) a place about which we are as proud as our tour guide in Florence is about her home.

Words toward the end of Dayton's speech could have come from Lorenzo: "We all love this state. We all want to see it prosper … Unity of purpose might seem impossible. But if we try, it might just show up, when we really need it."