The good, the bad, the ugly… but hope

2020 has definitely been one hell of a wild roller coaster ride. I’ve always thought of myself as a “glass half full” kind of gal, but 2020 put the whole “there’s always a silver lining” to the test. There have been days so dark and bleak and void of hope; yet, other days are full of laughter, joy, and promise.

The Good

Despite the darkness that has enveloped this crazy world, 2020 has shown me that light will always drive out the darkness. That light has shone through the loving care given to patients by health care providers and first responders. They continue to risk their own lives every time they go to work. They’ve seen so much death and devastation and they are exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are the real super heroes.

There was light last spring and summer as school officials tried so hard to give their seniors some kind of send off. Oh, how the light has shown through the teachers of both our great school systems. Teachers dug deep and their creative juices flowed as they made the most of being thrown into completely uncharted territory with absolutely no guidance from state leaders last spring. I am thankful for the many amazing administrators who have provided guidance without stifling the creativity that makes learning so much fun.

And I don’t care how the governor or the health department or anyone else classifies workers, occupations, or people, every single living, breathing human is essential. Everyone contributes something to society. Light has shone through so many of those deemed “nonessential.” Despite their doors being shut for months and losing who knows how much money, those “nonessentials” still supported their schools and contributed to causes near and dear to their hearts.

Small businesses across Blount County continue to give despite all that’s been taken from them this year. These small businesses are the backbone of our community. They are friends and neighbors. They are absolutely the most essential piece of our local economy so don’t forget to be a light for them.

Light has shone through so many individuals throughout this grueling year. Oneonta librarian Ricky Statham brought smiles to young and old through his Facebook Live story time. Young Ian Evans did the same when he started his own cooking show, “Mixing With Ian.” His creative cuisines, along with his bright smile, quickly became a hit and provided his Facebook and Instagram followers a much needed break.

When other ugly realities were thrust upon this nation, the light of 23-year-old Desiree Heflin led the way. In June, she said she was tired of “dealing with systemic racial injustice that is deeply rooted in our country.” Her plan was simple enough. It was to be a peaceful protest, a Constitutional right afforded to those living in the U.S. It was to be a time for people from all walks of life from all across Blount County to come together and exclaim with one collective voice that black lives matter.

Of course, it turned out to be not so simple. Oneonta Police Chief Charles Clifton and Oneonta city officials gave her the green light; however, the racial injustice that she and countless others were so tired of dealing with reared its ugly head. She was threatened more than once. Her family was threatened. Lies were spreading like wildfire on social media.

Grown men were harassing, belittling, threatening, and bullying this 23-year-old who grew up in Oneonta, graduated from Oneonta, and wanted her daughter to grow up in an Oneonta where her life mattered.

I cannot begin to imagine the fear she felt in those days leading up to the protest and march, the fear she felt as she spoke so confidently, boldly, and passionately to a crowd of around 300 at The Little Brick Church while there were men with rifles on rooftops. And I cannot begin to imagine how she felt hearing all the vile and evil words being shouted as she led those 300 from the church to the Depot.

She could have backed down. She could have canceled the whole thing. But she didn’t. She’s courageous, strong, brave, bold, and on June 5 she did what she set out to do… lead a peaceful protest in Oneonta.

“Why can’t the value of who we are as individuals be enough,” she asked that day. “All lives won’t matter until black lives do.” Heflin challenged everyone to “continue to work to be better individuals, to check our own hearts, to teach our children to love others and admire differences and diversity, to continue to address our problems and find solutions, to love even in disagreement, and to speak out against all injustice.”

Desiree you are such a light. You had the courage to stand when no one else would. Thank you.

The Bad

Well that can be summed up in one word – COVID-19. So many lives have been lost. So many hearts have been broken. I can name so many of them. All of them have left behind families who didn’t really get to say goodbye…

COVID sucks.

I miss Wednesday nights at Lester. I miss my Sunday school class. I miss my friends. I miss hugs, especially my Neno’s.

I still get a little angry that my son’s last tennis season was taken away. It doesn’t help that AHSAA created “safety” protocols for basketball and wrestling to make them “safer,” but no one worked real hard last spring to find a way to save tennis, track, golf, soccer, baseball, or softball.

I try not to be bitter, but obviously I’m not there yet. And don’t get me wrong. I am happy these kids are getting their seasons and I pray that they get to keep playing. No one deserves to have something like that snatched away.

Some days I’m actually a little angry, well a lot angry. We continue to lose so many people to this virus and I keep searching for an answer to the question, “Why do people care so little about others that they refuse to wear a mask?”

Maybe if we had all done what the medical experts, the doctors, and the nurses asked of us in March there would have been no need for a shutdown, no need for a mask mandate, no need for schools to open and close every other day. Maybe if everyone would just do what’s right and exhibit some compassion for our fellow humans, we can began to heal.

And if you don’t care to wear the mask, please don’t be mean to those of us who do. We hear the snide comments and see the finger pointing. Bullying won’t make us take it off.

The Ugly

There’s still that whole COVID-19 thing. But systemic racism is still uglier. In June, Blount County took a few steps forward. By the end of August, it was apparent Blount County wasn’t moving anywhere fast. District 3 Blount County Commissioner Dean Calvert was recorded having a conversation with his friend, who just happens to be a Warrior police officer. The friend is also the one who recorded the conversation with his dash cam. Not long into the video, Calvert uses a racial slur to describe an African American contractor. And if that’s not bad enough, he also proceeds to criticize the homes he builds.

The recording really goes down hill after that. The language is not exactly what you expect to hear from someone who preaches every now and then. There were calls for him to resign from the Commission. There was a rally on the courthouse steps with passionate speeches from Diane Lee, Rachel Simmons, Mark Moon, Jason Paul, and several others. Each one denounced the systemic racism that continues to plague Blount County and each one called for unity.

After a couple of attempts to apologize, Calvert avoided the final budget meetings as well as October’s work session and business meeting. He was present at the commission’s organizational meeting on Nov. 11 and participated via Zoom during the December meeting.

The situation could have been even uglier had the Birmingham Water Works Board not reinstated the agreement with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to utilize BCSO deputies for security at Inland Lake.

And while many believe Calvert should have done the same thing for Blount County as he did the Alabama Association of County Commissioners and resign, there are others that see nothing wrong with the racial slur, the misogynistic and sexist comments about women, or the profanity. Others give him a pass because it was casual conversation with a friend and he would never publicly talk like that.

But, the n-word is not something I have ever thrown into any kind of conversation. There are other words and other topics that I’m pretty sure I’ve never uttered either. My private conversations and my public conversations don’t really differ that much. Do yours?

I am nowhere near perfect. The public me is just as imperfect as the private me. And I don’t pretend to be one way when the public is watching and someone else entirely when I’m chatting with friends. But if I did, I can assure you that the real me would be the one chatting with friends. That’s the Aimee that should be used to judge my character, not the one the rest of the world sees.

… but Hope

I could go on for days. There’s been a lot of bad and ugly in 2020. But as I sit here and reflect, I choose to focus on the good because there was also so much good. There are so many memories and moments with my boys that I got because COVID forced us all to slow down. I longed for normal when it felt like normal mattered. All that really matters, though, are the moments that we have with those who fill our hearts with joy.

“Celebrate your big and little wins. Grow every day. Enjoy the first sip of your morning coffee, and the second and third and fourth. Find something to smile about… Give hugs often, compliment others whenever you can. Get inspired. Nourish yourself. Go outside. Take chances. Life is just too short and fragile to not live a life of chasing joy.” -Nikki Banas

-Aimee Wilson