If anyone can make sense of what’s happening over the holidays this year (without being too judgmental or playing the blame-game), please raise your hand. If this isn’t, “the best of times and the worst of times,” as once described by Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago I don’t know what it is. With all the bad stuff going on, it’s hard to see the good stuff but it’s out there; we just have to look harder for it.
Obviously, we, Americans, need more peace, joy, kindness and humor in our lives, and less fear, anger, hate and greed. More wisdom, courage and patience would be helpful, too. In America, in South Carolina, right here in Aiken, there are many people of goodwill, people who do the right thing. I’d say that the ratio of such people to the other type is about 100 to 1. So the odds are certainly in our favor.
This time of year I think about family and friends – especially people who had a big effect on my life. Many of those people have passed away while others I have not seen in years. Every year, I send out quite a few Christmas cards, even this year. I was raised in a small town in northern New Jersey not too different from Aiken. It was, and still is, a good place. I have been very fortunate most of my life. One of my heroes growing up was our high school gym teacher and basketball coach: a man named William “Bucky” Hatchett.
Bucky was an African-American in a mostly white community. He was an All-State athlete in three sports: football, basketball and track. He was an All-American athlete in those three sports at Rutgers University. He is one of the top 20 or 50 athletes in the entire history of New Jersey. But he was much more than that.
Bucky exuded dignity, decency and integrity. All of the students admired and respected him. Knowing him made it almost impossible to be a racist. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and died in 2011 at the age of 84.
Fast forward to 2005, when my wife and I moved to Aiken from Alexandria, Virginia. We followed my younger brother and his wife here, and we’re glad we did. People here are friendly, and life has been good. I go for morning walks with my three little dogs, two of them (and me) are now geriatrics, but we’re doing the best we can. When cars pass by us, the occupants often wave and smile.
On a recent walk on the street where the Aiken Golf Club is located, I decided to go around the clubhouse on the backside to avoid the traffic. When we got near the clubhouse shop, a man came out. I thought he was going to tell me that my dogs and I could not be there. Instead, he said, “Hello, Tony.”
I didn’t even know who he was. A short time later, we arrived downtown. I needed to use a restroom, so I took a chance on city hall. A lot of people were inside – city clerks, taxpayers, and workers putting up Christmas decorations. I walked in with my three little dogs hoping for the best. I used the facilities and left; nobody complained or criticized me.
After about 20 minutes, I walked past a church playground where little kids were playing. I saw a little red-headed boy among them. I like to ask red-headed kids where they got their red hair; some say from their mom or grandpa, others say, “I don’t know.”
When I asked this little boy – he was about 4 or 5 years old – where he got his red hair, he said, “I growed it.”
Kids are great, most people are kind and humor is everywhere. Let’s be a part of it, and do all we can to keep the kids safe and well.
Human beings have not experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic for more than 100 years. It is making life difficult and challenging for just about everyone in America and throughout the world. Some folks are very cavalier about it, comparing it to smoking (smoking is not contagious nor do you have to die alone). Others are being super-cautious to not infect themselves, their loved ones or other people. Whether our government has done all it should to combat this virus depends on who and what you believe. Statistics on infections and deaths are not good and vaccines are on the way.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of our character as individuals and as a nation. No person and no nation can be an island, complete and sufficient unto itself. Will we reject possessive individualism – selfishness, to embrace the common good – service to others?
Will America join with other nations to prevent the deterioration of democracy, nuclear war and climate change/global warming? In my view, these are the key questions.
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