Reflecting on 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on what has happened during this long, arduous year.

The year began as most do; families joined around their tables to celebrate the New Year with a spread of peas, greens, and pork — all Southern traditions to bring in a new year full of good luck and prosperity — followed by an afternoon of watching football and visiting. 2020 seemed promising and exciting.

Across the globe a new virus had been discovered with early reports alleging it originated from a market in Wuhan, China. It seemed so distant and isolated. There was no serious cause for concern here in our county. Life continued as usual, students returned to school, parents to work, and our lives got busy again.

Life is funny. At times it seems to pass so slowly; then again, it is flying past us and we seem to lose track of time lost. The lull between the new year and early March was filled with typical events: basketball season nearing its end while spring sports began and upcoming graduations and proms were being planned.

But on March 13 the local school systems made the difficult decision to break early for Spring break to prevent the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak.

On March 25, the virus that once seemed so distant made its way to Blount County. We had our first positive COVID-19 case. Initially there was skepticism and a lot of information that seemed to change.

New is sometimes frightening. We humans tend to be creatures of habit; we like things that are familiar and comfortable. We were suddenly being plunged into a new way of life, a new way of teaching, a new way of working. Blount County adapted well in the beginning. Soon, however, proms were being canceled, graduations postponed, weddings reverted to Zoom; families of long-term care patients were not allowed to see one another; those hospitalized were left to recover alone. We were losing things, things we never imagined could be taken from us.

Then in May, we lost someone; Blount County experienced its first COVID-19 death.

I must admit when it all began, I wore my mask, used sanitizer, and kept a safe distance from others, but I truly felt that we would overcome this virus quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Europe. New York was being ravaged by the virus while refrigerated morgues held bodies awaiting autopsies. I felt that as Blount Countians we would see this and recognize the need to protect one another.

I was wrong.

For months, I witnessed conspiracies being shared on social media. I saw many who were not wearing masks and I heard of families hosting large gatherings. It was disheartening. It is difficult to lose your sense of normal, the everyday activities and the traditions we hold dear.

But we lost much more than just that in 2020. We lost some wonderful souls. Death is a tragic and unfortunate part of life; we know that our loved ones are ours but for a moment in time. However, WE must do better, Blount County.

As I write this there are more than 50 families with an empty seat at their dining room table all because of a virus, and all because we did not do our part to protect one another. Those we have lost to COVID-19 were pillars in our communities. Their leaving forms a void that we cannot fill. This holiday season there will be absence and heartache felt by many, there will be tears shed, and I fear, despite all that we have lost, the numbers will continue to rise.

We have become selfish, so much so that we have sacrificed the safety of our own loved ones and community members.

COVID-19 has cost us so much in 2020. We have missed graduations, milestone birthday parties, holiday gatherings, sporting events, weddings, teachers have missed time with their students, students have missed valuable time in class instruction… I could continue.

But most importantly, what I hope we focus on is WHO COVID-19 has taken from us – those Blount Countians who have gone too soon. May we honor their memories by loving others as we love ourselves and by exhibiting loving care and reverence for life.

Going into 2021, I encourage you to search within your heart to find the compassion and empathy that may have been lacking in 2020. Every day we are presented with an opportunity to do something good, to impact another life. I do not charge you to be perfect, because no one is. Blount County, I charge you to be better, each day a little more. We may not be where we want to be, but we can work to be better than the day before.

-Rachel Simmons