The Resilient People of 2020, fault lines, peacemakers, and changing the tone

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I hate to admit that it wasn’t until the fifth episode of the 17th season that I had ever seen an episode of the perennial ABC smash Grey’s Anatomy. I tuned in because a friend of mine from Twitter, the actor Bianca F. Taylor (@Redesigning_B), was making her final appearance as Elena Bailey.

After eight years in that recurring role, her character succumbed to COVID-19 in a heartbreaking timely story that aired in December. With such a unique perspective on the most pressing issue of our day, I wondered the wisdom she had to share about the year that has just passed.

“A lesson of awareness opened for me during COVID-19,” she relayed via Twitter. “There are fault lines in our societal infrastructure and many or loved ones fell through them.”

Ferguson told me that is rare for a story to “align with history” in such a way, and she clearly relished the challenge of acting out something so important and devastatingly relevant.

“Here was an opportunity to shine a light on nursing home and assisted living patients where 40% of the COVID deaths occurred,” she explained referencing what happened in the episode. “Reform is needed in nursing homes and the vaccines offered to nursing home residents and employees should also be available to the ambulance workers [and other medical staff].”

Taylor said one of the questions we need to ask is why weren’t enough vaccines ordered?

“These are fault lines,” she says.

2020 was a year in which fault lines appeared or were exacerbated. 

“I made a Facebook post earlier [in 2020] asking where our peacemakers are,” Kyle Eychner told me right before the end of the year. “People don’t seem to be very able or willing to come to peace on their own.”

I know Kyle because he goes to my church, Lowell United Methodist, and serves on the Parish Council. He also takes responsibility for all the maintenance and upkeep of the building and property. 

Eychner thinks that what the world can learn from 2020 is something he believes “it already knows,” which is the people are divided among political or ideological lines and that it’s bringing “extreme viewpoints to the forefront.”

“Another thing we can learn from the past year is that, yes, we are our ‘brother’s keeper,’” He says. “It has been made clear that individual personal actions can and do affect other people and that needs to shape the way we conduct ourselves.”

Kyle Eychner is concerned that people on different sides of fault lines characterize one another by the most extreme examples, and hopes that in 2021, there we can “pull out some truth,” so that there can be a meeting on middle ground. 

“We really need to seek His way,” Eychner believes. “Going forward we need to be thinking about what we are going to do individually to contribute to the peace.”

His advice going forward is to “do whatever good thing God leads you to do. That is where and when we will see change in the world.”

“We need to fight injustice, racism, oppression, authoritarianism, but not each other,” Jen DeWeerth said. “There may be opponents in those fights but they are not our enemies. Our enemies are evil, harm, and cruelty. We can work to dismantle and destroy those without destroying people.”

DeWeerth is a leader in the local progressive community and she is the clergy member who officiated at my wedding to Jim this past year. She is one of the primary people I look to for spiritual guidance and sometimes to help me stay centered. I wondered what advice she had for the new year.

She recommended people read a book called See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, filmmaker, and civil rights lawyer.]

GoodReads.com says that “Kaur reclaims love as an active, public, and revolutionary force that creates new possibilities for ourselves, our communities, and our world.” 

“Kaur talks about three practices of revolutionary love towards others, towards opponents, and towards oneself,” DeWeerth explained over Facebook Messenger. “See no stranger, tend to the wounds of others, and love the self.”

On the author’s website, ValerieKaur.com, she says, “the way we make change is just as important as the change we make.”

“I feel like your approach to journalism exemplifies the desire to see the humanity in everyone,” DeWeerth told me, “even those coming from a very different perspective.”

“I hope I live up to that,” I thought to myself as read Jen DeWeerth’s words. That is my credo as a journalist and my goal in writing this column, and also as a teacher. It’s one of the reasons I like including my former students in this column. I believe the world needs to hear from young people, take them seriously, and be receptive to what they can teach us.

“What do you want to say to the world?” I asked Ethan Pavlus on Twitter.

“We need a tone change,” he replied. 

Pavlus graduated from high school in 2020 and was a student in my English Language Arts class in 2018-2019. He is confident and optimistic that we will have that change starting on January 20th when Joe Biden is sworn into office as President of the United States.

I wanted to follow up on my interview with him from last week and ask what sort of “tone” he expected from the new administration.

“Positive and uniting,” he answered with conviction.

“I agree that’s what President Biden will do,” I said. “But what will you do to change the tone? How will you support this change of tone”

His answer was one of those things that give you confidence about the future.

“I will continue to treat people well and treat all people with respect.” He answered simply.

“I have a lot of thoughts on what’s happened during the past 10 months ranging from political, to economic, to the way media has covered this entire ordeal, and so on,” Rocco Migliori said in an email. 

I would like to hear all of that and hope to someday, “…but speaking specifically from the perspective of a school superintendent, obviously much has happened that is out of our control but much has also been learned.”

Migliori is the superintendent of the Westmoreland Central School District and has been a leader in the local education community’s transition to remote and hybrid learning in response to the COVID epidemic.

“Some of our deeply held values were reaffirmed,” Migliori continued. “Primary of which is the fact that school is much, much more than just a place to learn. Schools are home away from home for kids for 13 years of their lives.”

He listed the things schools offer such as emotional support, medical services, food, shelter, counsel, and friendship.

“As much as we knew this before, I’m not sure we fully appreciated it as much as we do now,” he explained. “Teachers need to plan and talk with their colleagues, they need to kneel down on the floor next to the kids to assist them with their math and writing [and] kids need to be with their friends.”

Migliori talked about how educators have learned how to better leverage technology, how even the youngest learners have grown more independent, and how there can be “a new focus on and concentration on how we can use that independence to create better, more thoughtful learners.”

The eagerness of students to return to the classroom has shown him that the school was doing a good job pre-COVID. He is optimistic that everyone will learn from this and “do an even better job post-COVID.”

“In a way 2020 gave us all [the] lesson: life is too short, and really, anything is possible,” Beth Coombs matched Pavlus’s optimism about the future. “In 2021 I hope we really think about the life we’re choosing every day. Think about how you want to feel when you get out of bed, and take small steps to get there.”

Until she stepped down in the last week of 2020, Coombs was the co-host of the morning radio show on WLZW, Lite 98.7. She says she came to realize that having the life she wanted required “deliberate choices about how she wanted [her] life to feel.” She says that feeling is “all we’re ever aiming for.”

I wrote this column in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 6, a day when it appears that the Democrats will take control of both houses of Congress, and Joe Biden election night victory will be certified. The energy of the night is an echo of the night Barack Obama won the election, or when the Supreme Court made Marriage Equality the law of the land. 

“Diversity is the strength of our union,” Taylor declared in our interview. “In our diversity of thought, pathways, and [as] beings, we can be more aware of our sameness in the coming year.”

I stopped for a moment and thought about what she said as Rev. Raphael Warnock addressed the nation as Senator-elect from Georgia.

“Let us rise up, greet the morning and meet the challenges of this moment,” Warnoff said, while so much of the nation rejoiced at the historic accomplishment. I thought about what a great year this is will have to be now that it has begun with Georgia sending a Black man to the United States Senate for the first time in its history. 

“…and in that awareness, we can find peace and harmony in our unity,” Taylor concluded her comments. “Let it be so.”

Ron Klopfanstein welcomes your questions, comments, and story ideas. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein

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