LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Even in 2020 there’s still so much to be thankful for

The year that never seemed to end is finally ending, and if you’re reading this, we are glad you’re still here with us. It was a year of loss for many – that can’t be belittled. Some lost loved ones, some lost faith in humanity, some lost their livelihood and some lost their purpose. It’s amazing to think we have been dealing with the virus for a year now, not to mention a new outpouring of racial and political unrest that has been going on for even longer. Heck, we still can’t find toilet paper sometimes.

But still we persevere. Just like the Stars and Stripes that flew over Fort McHenry in 1812, Americans soldier on. We are still here. We are one of the most adaptive nationalities on the planet, and always have been … and we not only adapt, we thrive. It may not seem like that sometimes, but we do.

Can you show me another country filled with people of such varying diversity, with major differences in culture, creed and opinion, who will give all when the chips are down to fight for each other? The way I look at it, with every test we have been given this year we have shone through in our own unique way. 

One of the most profound things I have ever heard came, from all places, from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood on PBS. Fred Rogers’ words came to mind so many times this year.

 “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

While we were all taking sides over issues like black vs. white, masks vs. no masks, conservative vs. liberal, there were always people in the background who kept things afloat. The good police officers, the neighbors who surrounded their local shops and kept them safe during times of unrest, the firefighters and EMS workers who came to the aid of people on both sides of the equation, without fail. The doctors, the nurses, the scientists who went above and beyond – and still are – working frantically to save lives and find cures. 

One day we will look back on this year with a more objective perspective, and we will wonder how our country’s teachers held it together, how they kept calm and carried on for the sake of our children when parents were becoming unglued and couldn’t fully be there for them. We will wonder how our local politicians had to make decisions that could change lives through potential exposure or the loss of businesses. I hope, one day, many people will look back on this year and wonder how we ever let politics get the best of us so much, we turned our backs on friends and loved ones and instead supported politicians who never have and never will know our names.

The parts of 2020 that made it infamous will not magically go away when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. There will still be a virus, there will still be racial unrest, and there will still be neighbors pitted against neighbors over politics. It would be lovely to think that 2020 was a year of learning, and a year of introspection. I fear, though, that we are still on the first leg of that journey. I don’t know when people will put aside their differences and compromise even a little bit over politics, or over feeling marginalized, or entitled, or the fact that both sides of an argument might be as right as they are wrong. 

Here’s what I do know. I know on the night of the winter band concert for L.A. Ainger Middle School and Lemon Bay High School (which was combined due to COVID reasons), the very large crowd of family members, friends and faculty who attended were a boisterous lot. People were happy to be out in an open-air football stadium together, some for the first time in a long time. The noise level escalated until just before the kids began playing, and a moment of silence was announced for Lemon Bay High School graduate Spencer Stephens, who was killed in an auto accident recently.

As soon as his name was mentioned, the crowd quieted. When that moment of silence began, you could have heard a pin drop in that stadium. People in the stands and on the field reflected on the horror of losing someone so dear, in the blink of an eye. It reminded us of what is truly important. It reminded us that no matter what opinion we have about our current state of affairs, there is something more precious. 

Spencer won’t get to see 2021. His family and friends will have a very serious reason to look back at this year and feel a deep, profound abyss of sorrow. 

In that moment we were united, held together by an unfathomable loss. 

What we felt was acute empathy.

I wish we could get back to empathy more often. I wish we could learn from our mistakes and become stronger for making them. Maybe some people will, but many will not. That is the beauty and the sorrow of being a relatively new country, whose heartbeat steps to the tune of a republic. We have not been dulled down to a slow, steady, plodding rhythm, but instead march to a sharp, staccato beat of individuality that taps out loud and proud, with ever-changing variations. We are a loving, hating, peaceful, passionate people who pride ourselves on our ability to continue on, with the hope that tomorrow will be better because we made it so. 

Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with us for another year. We have tried to give you our best, most objective perspective on island news. Quite often that news is delivered with gentle love, but occasionally it is delivered with a bit of an edge. That is because we care, so much. We are blessed to be here with you on this special little spit of sand, and we want you to know how much we love this community.

See you next year. This one is almost over.

Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. She can be reached at mshortuse@bocabeacon.com.