Mar. 12—There are many occasions in life with which we celebrate. My family held such an event on Sunday evening — the 2nd birthday of my grandson, Waylon Dearner.
Seeing his little face light up as he played and celebrated his special day brought hope and reassurance that life goes on and that every life is special.
This is the youngest — and inevitably the last — of the grandchildren. Neither of my children plan to have any more children. And although there are two granddaughters who are nearly 21 years old now — one of whom is engaged and planning to marry this year — I admit having no great ambitions to have great grandchildren any time soon! With the four girls being five years apart and the boys intermingled at three years younger than the girls but still five years apart themselves, the grandchildren are spread out from 2 to 21 and I'd like to enjoy each of their special occasions.
Waylon's birthday celebration brought back memories of his first birthday celebration last year — held on his special day, just before the COVID pandemic changed all our lives. We gathered — over 30 of us — without masks, we hugged and held the babies and acted as if things were normal. And, at that time, they were.
But a week later, our lives took a drastic turn, unlike any other ever experienced.
On the same day that the public schools chose to close their doors for in-person classes, I found myself being told to go home to work and not go out in public unless absolutely necessary. I commend our editor for that effort — she has been very pro-active throughout the pandemic, making sure that the employees falling under her direction have been as safe as is earthly possible.
While the pandemic spread and raged, so did our country — we experienced the death of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis that brought protests for equal treatment of all people, especially African Americans. Things were brought closer to home following the police-involved shooting death of Louisville EMT, Breonna Taylor, with our nation exploding in more protests and destruction after these horrific events.
We didn't celebrate the holidays in our usual manner, leaving many feeling devastated and alone. Many events that have become tradition were cancelled or revised in various manners over the past year, with only a hope that some restoration of the things we are accustomed to would soon come again.
Of course, how could we ever forget the 2020 Presidential election and the chaos that ensued, even into 2021. We learned to vote early, vote by mail — to just vote. And we turned out the largest number at the polls and by mail in American history. We became more familiar than we wanted with the terms of "mail fraud" and "impeachment." We learned that even our most sacred institutions could become a site of rampant protests and threats — assaults not from other countries but by our own citizens.
Our educators and children had to adjust to an entirely new method of learning, many times without the proper equipment necessary to do so. Our parents had to become teachers themselves, but hopefully they gained a new respect for those who deal with teaching children every day — holding their attention, encouraging those who had difficulty understanding, relating to those children whose attention spans were shorter than the 'model' students. Hopefully they realized the dedication and frustration of those who attempt to impart their knowledge and techniques to inspire children to set and achieve goals and be successful in their educational and social interactions.
We realized, through the process of virtual learning, that in adapting to a new way of education that we lacked access in many areas of our country to Internet and social media. We had to devise new methods of learning, new methods of teaching, new methods of being a parent-teacher.
Families affected by this deadly virus suffered while their loved ones died and had limited funeral services, often excluding many immediate family members from the grieving process in order to maintain mandated 'small gatherings.' We experienced virtual memorial services and drive-by viewings to maintain social distancing and safety.
Those who work in the healthcare field were finally recognized for their efforts and became considered 'first responders' in a manner in which we often overlooked before. We praise their dedication for placing themselves on the front lines to care for others while risking their own safety.
The things of the past gave way to innovative means to continue with some sense of 'the normal' that we had so taken for granted. We hosted drive-through parades to recognize our healthcare workers, giving them a long overdue appreciation that we failed to do prior to this pandemic. We yearned for the large gatherings and celebrations that once headlined many of our leisurely activities, so we learned to keep our distance in order to have some semblance of the past. We cherished the family members that we could not see and learned that social media as a means of communication was vital to maintain our sanity. We debated the safety of quickly developed vaccines that promise to save our lives and the lives of others — while donning our masks and hoping we were among the fortunate group spared from this horrible virus.
It has been a challenging year since COVID dominated our lives and our lifestyles. But with the spirit of survival and hope, we have accomplished uncountable triumphs and devised new ways to conduct our lives to protect ourselves and others. That alone is reason for celebration. It does not right all the wrongs of our society. It does not cure the diseases and disorders that have plagued our health for decades. But it provides hope for tomorrow and some sense of unity among a divided nation that has overcome hardships and suffering and stood stronger than ever.
Let's hope we continue in that manner.
Nita Johnson is a staff writer at the Sentinel-Echo and can be contacted at email@example.com.