We’ve dealt with the pandemic and its many heartbreaks, a bruising election and the quixotic efforts to undo it, economic chaos, joblessness, a racial reckoning that led to protests and rioting, and, finally, a vaccine. Locally, we dealt with public lands being overrun, the tourism industry shutdown and then its renaissance, several nursing homes and a couple of other businesses being stricken by too many deaths, and protests against racism by mostly young, white kids right here on our own main streets.
Besides the sheer volume of news and events, there was the bizarre reality of how the pandemic fundamentally changed everything about the way we live — home life, relationships, work, school, social get-togethers, shopping, the way we recreate. Simple things became very complicated, very difficult, and very meaningful.
How do you put it in perspective?
I remember very clearly the events in March as the state and the nation began to close down. I wandered down Main Street talking with business owners who, at first, didn’t understand why they had to shutdown. These were men and women who had put their dreams and their financial futures on the line by opening small businesses and now were wrestling with the possibility of collapse and failure through no fault of their own.
Like everyone else, The Smoky Mountain News was forced to make tough decisions as those small businesses stopped advertising and our revenues plummeted. We had to lay off half of our staff, hoping it would be temporary. Then the mission was to navigate through the relief loans offered through the SBA and claw our way through the late spring, summer, fall and early winter to get to this point: all our staff is back, but we’re looking ahead to 2021 still unsure what it holds.
That’s been the most maddening aspect of this pandemic, the uncertainty. Humans spend a lot of time trying to plan for what’s ahead, working hard to make sure we can pay rent, buy food and clothes, support our children and families, perhaps buy a home and help our kids through college. It’s called life. And this year we haven’t been sure about anything. Anxiety, depression and the feeling of helplessness are overwhelming many, and mental health professionals tell us domestic abuse, suicide and other issues are increasing at an alarming rate.
We’ve all read about the selfless front-line workers, those in health care and emergency services who have been dealing with disruption in their own lives while treating COVID patients. Think about those mental health problems exploding across the country and how local police are having to work through those issues.
Perhaps, though, no group has been more impacted by the pandemic than families. By most estimates one in five children in the U.S. live in a household with a single mother. As schools shutdown every family had to find ways to keep working while keeping their kids focused on school and taken care of. No one was more challenged than single parents as they navigated this world turned upside down. I’ve watched as the single moms who work at our company find ways to make this work, and it was heroic the measures they took to get through 2020.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about teachers. My wife works in the public school system, and she had to totally re-invent the way she does her job. But that’s what those who love teaching do, no complaints, just keep things going. Our children are grown, but she’s watched her cohorts do balancing acts worthy of circus acrobats to teach school while coping with the needs of their own at-home children. Amazing things have happened.
Hopefully, though, it’s the reckoning with our racist past that may be the lasting legacy of this year, even more so than this pandemic. The nationwide protests for racial justice that erupted after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while pinned under the knee of a white police officer will eventually change much about this country. Though almost all our history was created and written from a white perspective, from here forward it will be multi-hued. That’s who we are, despite how that truth vexes so many. Much has changed since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but now people are demanding more systemic change. And it will come, at least if this experiment we call America is to survive and thrive. This new movement is only in its infancy.
With just a few days until the clock strikes midnight and we move into a new year, we are all putting a lot of pressure on 2021. It has to be better, right? Maybe yes, maybe no, but after all we’ve been through in 2020 at least we can see a path forward. That, in itself, holds promise.