The meaning of “&”

September 5th, 2010

It’s been almost 4 years since my family and I moved to Petaluma, trading in our city life for a place with breathing room. Sonoma captivated us, though at the time, it was hard to pinpoint the exact source of its appeal. Without knowing its formal history we could instantly sense its uniqueness.

Each time we explored a new pocket or corner, we found ourselves admiring the organic mix of styles, tastes and influences. Small town charm peacefully coexists with modern-day conveniences. Scenic hillsides are peppered with the sweat of industry, alongside suburban enclaves. Agricultural roots serve as the context for an unexpectedly current livelihood of arts and music.

Perhaps most evident is the architectural diversity we witnessed in our search of a house to call home. We were taken by the tapestry of English cottages blending with their Spanish-style neighbors nestled beside renewed Craftsmans, mid-century ranch, modern steel-siding, and of course, elegant heritage Victorians. It was as if we had stumbled upon a place immune to the chronology of time, embracing with open arms every era with equal love. If Sonoma were an art project, it would certainly be deemed mixed media.

It was obvious that Sonoma serves as an intersection, a meeting place if you will, where assorted personalities and perspectives come together and somehow swirl into a mix that is at once idiosyncratic and attractive.

No longer outsiders looking into this unique community, we are now enthusiastic participants falling deeper into its embrace. Over time, I’ve heard a lot of attempts to sum up this magic quality that is Sonoma. Most recently it’s been called eccentric and eclectic, both ideas that speak to the diversity and mix-ology that drew us here.

For me there might be an even simpler summation. It lies in a word so commonplace that it’s often overlooked, yet its role and meaning is so powerful when you stop to think about it. The word is AND, or better still, the symbol of “&”. The ultimate connector, “&” joins contrasting, even opposing ideas and offers them a home…together. “&” unites the unlike-minded, enjoys their differences and suspends judgment. “&” promotes dimension rather than singularity, vibrancy over monotony. Most importantly, “&” encourages harmony built on mutual respect.

At it’s essence “&” represents the core of what community should be – people from varying backgrounds and experiences, from diverse ethnicities and a spectrum of socio-economic classes coming together in conviviality. Isn’t that what true community is all about? Acknowledging, sharing, even celebrating our differences so that we may learn and grow from them?

It makes me proud to think that I live in an area that embodies “&” at its core, that connectedness that is community. If we can embrace this nature that is inherent to Sonoma, I believe that we can step forward into the future stronger, richer and a model for other communities to follow.

~ Bonnie Wan

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