PORTLAND – While waiting to be seated at one of my favorite local restaurants, I decided to play a word game.

“What is the word that makes Portland so special?” I asked myself.

Well, it is at the top of “best of” lists across the nation and the world. And even closer to home, it is growing while everywhere else seems to be declining. In Maine, the Census-confirmed state with the oldest population, Portland still has a healthy balance.

What is it that brings young people to Portland, and that young people bring to Portland?

The opportunity here is more than just proximity to Boston, it is deliberate work to cultivate local entrepreneurship. Yes, young people want jobs, but we want to be more than a name tag in a faceless conglomerate.

We want more than to just work for someone, we want to work toward something. We need mentors, we need to be able to look around and see positive role models of people who have done it, who took the risk, who started their own business and found a community there supporting them.

I saw a Portland Buy Local sticker on the window and the word “independent” blazed in front of me. Maine has an independent streak a hundred miles wide, so what is it that the rest of Maine could learn from Portland?

I finally got seated and looked down in awe at the diverse menu, the clash of cultures that in this scintillating melting pot come together to make something new and deliciously invigorating. Yes, Portland’s diversity is definitely one of the secret ingredients in its recipe of success.

Sharing ideas, cultures and ways of doing things leads to innovation. But it isn’t just innovation that sets Portland apart, it is also pure Yankee ingenuity that keeps the fires going through the cold economic winters that seem to never end throughout Maine.

But there’s more. Is it freedom of expression? Art and music and vibrant social life? The camaraderie of not following the flock but of brazen individuality? People can be who they want here, and not just behind closed doors.

Here you can publicly express your love. You can hold hands with your partner, you can sell your art in the streets, you can march topless as Adam and Eve, you can be yourself and be accepted in the community as long as you do the same for others.

I knew there had to be a word that ties all these words together in a happy little bundle with a bow on top. It just refused to show itself, buzzing around my periphery and eluding my clumsy attempts at capture like a taunting mosquito.

“Openness,” I said with wonder. “Openness.” It would almost sound lurid if it weren’t so wonderful.

The city is open, not crowded and claustrophobic, but inviting. The city invites diversity, and all those other wonderful words which define Portland are expressions of our openness.

The excitement of trying new things, taking risks, being daring, risking innovation. To not be afraid of the different or new, of change or the future, but to be open to it, and thus to help create it and be in front of it instead of being behind struggling to catch up.

Open not just to crazy Massachusetts drivers, but to Sudanese refugees. All of us are Portlanders, all of us who dare to live wide open and embrace all we have to offer each other.

I stood in front of my apartment building in anticipation of the sweet dreams that awaited me and opened myself to whatever wisdom the universe offered me.

If we want to have the quality of life we all desire, we can’t close the door to anyone.

A home should be an open circle, inviting all to join and share. Like a family, we bicker and disagree but still appreciate each other as essential pieces of the puzzle without which the whole community wouldn’t be complete.

I saw a streak of light, a shooting star to wish upon, and wondered if the other stars noticed it was gone before slipping off to sleep.

– Special to the Press Herald