Brogan: Can 2021 Bring A Return Of Optimism?

Paul E. Brogan

Last week I stood at the entrance of Concord's beloved White's Park (Okay - White Park for those who prefer that moniker), feeling hopeful and optimistic.

Throughout my many decades of living in Concord, the park has always been a source of pleasure and reflection for me. Last week it never felt better being there between two brightly decorated trees on an unusually balmy December evening. The familiar surroundings only seemed to provide me a sense of positivity as 2020 wound down.

The past year has been a challenge for everyone, no matter what your attitude may be about what has dominated the headlines and changed all of our lives. It changed the way we all functioned on a daily basis and greatly curtailed and altered the things that we have all come to love and enjoy about living in a vibrant, exciting and very diverse community.

My mom, who turned 97 on New Year's Eve recently reflected on some of the challenging times she has faced during her long life. The Great Depression and the suffering so many endured during the 1930's. World War II and the losses that almost every family faced, as well as the necessary rationing and courage displayed by a country that pulled together as one.

A year ago we were all looking at the start of 2020 in a considerably different way. Our city had not been as appealing in many years. We had a vast array of restaurants, nightlife, sports, theater offerings and other cultural sites and a promise of even more to come. Although some of us may have had differing notions when it came to politics, as had usually been the case in Concord, those differences did not detract from our friendships and willingness to allow each person to be their own person.

For me, 2020 started on a high. Gibson's Bookstore had told me that my 2019 book, The Concord Theatre and Concord's Love Affair with the Movies, had been their top-selling title by a local author for 2019. It felt good that this book, more than half a century in the works, had resonated with so many and provided insight to a little known part of our local history.

In January and February of 2020, I was busy mapping out the next titles I would be writing. They included, The Park, a fictional mystery set in White's Park in the early 60's. A body is found floating in the pond during the fabled Peanut Carnival's of yore. Concord Police Chief Walter Carlson teams up with Betty Abbott, Director of Recreation and Parks at the time, to solve the mystery. In the process, they became as celebrated as Sherlock and Doctor Watson were.

I also began planning a lengthy book entitled, More Than Freckles: The Amazing Life and Career of Doris Day. The title came from the classes I have taught in the area to hundreds about my longtime friendship with Doris and her dazzling career and philanthropic work, which earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

The arrival of the Coronavirus in March, changed the course of many lives and cost us way too many. Like all of us, I had to alter some of my plans and find a way to deal with the necessary changes in even the smallest of daily tasks and chores.

Making sure my mom, who was obviously at high-risk, became a priority.

Because of my underlying health issues (Asthma since childhood, which has only worsened with age despite my doctor once telling me that I would outgrow it), would put me at a risk too.

Fortunately one of the big pluses of being categorized as a "senior citizen", enabled me to make an almost daily pilgrimage to Market Basket, in a mask, during the early morning hours.

I also found that when Alan's work schedule changed and he began to work from home, instead of daily travels to Vermont, that being in such close proximity 24 hours each day, does not grate. If you have the right attitude and provide one another with a degree of space, it can serve to further cement a relationship as you travel together through a major worldwide upheaval.

During the last 9 years, I have taught a variety of classes for OLLI at Granite State College as well as at New England College. I've grown to love the in-person contact with my classes and the energy derived from our interactions together. Initially I was content to wait the pandemic out and resume in-person classes if and when it was deemed safe. As the weeks went on and the forecast became more and more dire, I knew I might be waiting a long time.

The possibility of doing classes via Zoom didn't initially appeal to me. I am at the age where there was little allure to learning a new technology. Frankly, I was always content with my Smith Corona and some carbon paper. I had considered it a mammoth step forward when I became computer savvy.

I finally decided that I needed to dip my toe into the sea of Zoom and see whether I could wrap myself around that method of doing classes. Fortunately the Osher Program at Dartmouth College offered four weeks of training on-line and I surprised myself by finding that teaching via Zoom, despite necessary adjustments, was worth overcoming my fears.

The two classes I taught (New England College and Osher at Dartmouth) via Zoom, were tremendously gratifying and made an enormous difference in how I viewed the ongoing pandemic and looked toward the future.

This winter and spring I'll be back at Dartmouth, twice, at Colby-Sawyer once, and at OLLI at Granite State College, once - and all via Zoom. I know it'll help to make the long and sometimes dreary days and nights of January and February just a bit brighter.

I encourage and urge everyone who is becoming tired and frustrated by the seemingly endless months and months of challenge, to try something new and different. Step out of your comfort zone in some way and take on a new skill. I guarantee you that you'll be surprised at what it may yield you.

The books I planned are coming along, spurred by the enthusiasm I have found in getting through each day and learning new things and walking, walking, walking, while wearing a mask but still feeling connected to our great city. I will confess that sometimes, when I walk at night (as in the picture), I'll remove the mask when nobody else is around and I want to breathe in the fresh air and get a shot of renewal.

Sometime in 2021 we will all be able to start returning to something resembling "normal". Some will get the vaccine and some won't. It's a personal choice and I won't condemn those who choose not to for some reasonable reason. Also in about 6 months, Concord Patch will mark ten years as an exciting and important source of news in our community. Some dismissed this venture when it first reared its head in the early summer of 2011, but the tenacity and hard work as well as vision of Tony Schinella, made it work and grow and inspire.

Hopefully in 2021 we can all begin connecting in-person, enjoying events as a group and feeling that indefinable sense of a shared experience. Whether its sports, doing to the movies, or attending one of the great theater and concert venues in our city. How many communities of under 50,000 can boast of venues like the Capitol Center, the Bank of NH Stage, Red River Theatres, the "Audi", Hatbox Theater and so many other places devoted to providing us with real opportunities to be entertained, enlightened and inspired?

Our City by the Merrimack has gone through a great deal in its long and stored history but has always survived, due to the quality of the people who have chosen to live here.

While we have sadly lost many in the past year, we will never forget them and we will march forward into a new year because we are strong and loving and an amazingly unselfish city that has always shown its heart.

May 2021 bring each and everyone of you more happiness than sorrow and a renewed sense of purpose in whatever you chose to do. Happy New Year!!

This article originally appeared on the Concord Patch