At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

This must be the place: There’s all kinds of magic, it’s hard to believe

Guitar strumming on the new porch. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Guitar strumming on the new porch. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

So, where am I right now? 

Well, physically, I’m sitting in the back of our office, by myself in the conference room near the kitchen and mini-fridge. The blue coffee cup next to my laptop is full of the caffeinated black liquid that gives me the strength to type fast enough to meet those pesky deadlines.

It’s Tuesday morning and whoever is here today helps in proofing the newspaper before it goes to press and hits newsstands on Wednesday. It’s cool and dimly lit back here, which is to my liking, especially when I’m writing or simply trying to ease into the responsibilities at hand. 

Emotionally? I’m not really sure where I am these days. Sometimes I feel like I have it all dialed in, within my heart and soul (and current position of life and work), this stable footing of self and of purpose. 

Other days, I feel like I’m all over the map, this haphazard existence where decisions are seemingly made in haste in an effort to not fall into some kind of predictable pattern of movement and persona. 

I’ll probably have more to say about the gigantic elephant in the room that is 2020 and the question of “Where to from here?” in a month or so when New Year’s Eve rolls around. 

A holiday season recap, if you will, of this dumpster fire of a calendar year, where we stand together and gaze around at what’s left to embrace, pondering the hard truths of the age-old saying, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” 

Quick thought: if the ball in Times Square drops and nobody is around to hear or see it, did 2020 really end? Can you imagine ushering in 2021 with an empty Times Square? All those blinking lights and not a soul to stand there in awe of one moment transitioning into the next. 

Though I suppose that image of empty and silent New Year’s celebrations is par for the course when it comes to where we stand today, as a society and just as John & Jane Q. Public trying to navigate these choppy and unknown waters, personally and professionally. 

Like many of you out there, I’ve been getting “pandemic fatigue,” this seemingly endless motion of modern-day societal interaction (or lack thereof) and noise from the internet, TV, radio or whoever you find yourself next going on and on about the virus. Not to mention the tip of the iceberg that is national politics in 2020, a dangerous beehive I’ll stand clear of for now.

I’m keeping my head up. Always wearing my mask in any public setting. Constantly washing my hands. Standing six feet or so away from another human being at the grocery store, gas station, liquor store, department store, fitness gym, and so on. 

But, more importantly, I’ve been keeping tabs on all my beloved friends and family members around the country and across the globe. Even before “all of this,” I’ve always aimed to keep an open line of communication with those I love and adore, even if they’re far away and we might not actually talk as often as we’d like. 

And yet, this past Saturday I felt a little isolated. Lonely, perhaps. Where all things loved and familiar seem further and farther away, whether physically or emotionally. It’s been a long year, for all of us. An even longer year for those like myself who live, work and travel alone, too. No regrets. Seek new adventure and friendship, always. 

But, on certain days, your heart hangs a little heavy, especially when you unlock your front door and step into a quiet apartment, the only sign of recent movement being your unmade bed and half-empty beer can on the kitchen counter. You shut the door behind you, look at the clock and wonder what to do with the rest of the evening?

Anyhow, I had done some writing at a coffee shop and went for an afternoon run. Lots of thoughts and pondering while trotting along the side streets of downtown Waynesville. Circling back to the humble abode, I felt distant. Very alone. 

So, I grabbed my guitar and sat on the wraparound front porch, strumming some tunes and watching the sun fall behind Balsam Gap. Next door is a popular pizza parlor. As I was playing along, this man about my age gets out of his car in the parking lot and approaches the porch.

“Sounds pretty good,” the man said in a friendly tone. 

“I’m trying,” I replied modestly. 

“Yeah, I tried to learn guitar. Never got far with it, but I can play ‘Smoke on the Water,’” he laughed. 

We ended up talking for a little bit about where we’re from, my new porch (and the wild story of how the renovation came to fruition), the impending winter, etc. A truly sincere and kind soul. Just waiting for his pizza to bring home to his family. 

Eventually, his pizza order was ready. He said goodbye and strolled back across the parking lot to the restaurant. The sun was now long gone, the last of the day’s rays somewhere outside of Nashville. That simple chat erased the sense of loneliness, if but for a moment. So, thanks, Ruben.

Maybe this column is a ramble. Or maybe it’s the thoughts in real time of a fellow human waking up each morning and trying to be a better person than the previous day. I remain optimistic in where we’re headed. I believe in the compassion and camaraderie of the human spirit. Reach out and connect, just don’t forget to wear your mask and keep some distance. 

This “new normal” doesn’t mean the end of making new friends and finding yourself in a happenstance interaction that can turn any frown upside down. If anything, 2020 has emphasized the importance of simply saying hello to another and seeing where the conversation takes you. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

Go to top