For the last couple of weeks it feels like most of the things I tend to write about are terribly trivial.
… an unnecessary insertion into a week filled with long overdue conversations about race that deserved our full and undivided attention.
Monica Hesse, The Washington Post, June 9, 2020
But like most of us, I suspect, I’ve been thinking about race a whole lot since the end of May, along with my place in making things better.
Because the place where I live, in this corner of southwest Virginia, has a lot going for it:
And we live among some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.
But this corner of the world is also trying to figure out, I think, where it stands regarding its past.
And while it’s not too unusual to see a Confederate flag in someone’s yard, on the other hand, our county’s school board voted just last week to ban the symbol from its dress code, overturning a decision to the contrary that was just made in January of this year.
We have been pretty good about staying away from folks with all of the Covid quarantining, but with restrictions loosening up around Virginia and a set of balding tires on my car, it was time to head in to the city to get them fixed.
The car dealer where I was getting the work done is a 45-minute drive from home, so I planned to camp out there. I brought along my trusty computer, hoping to get some work done. It was not to be.
People in Southwest Virginia are loquacious, and everyone has a tale to tell. I enjoyed some stories from a nice lady, a retired nurse who worked at the huge Veterans Administration hospital in Salem, and I admired pictures of Buddy the car salesman’s geodesic dome house (and learned the story of how he was able to buy it for cash) (hint: it had been a “hippie house”). I had a great talk with Theresa, who has a son the same age as that Reynolds boy who is now back in Kentucky (neither of us know what to do about those darned video games that keep the kids up all night). We all talked about wearing masks, and how we didn’t like them covering our noses. We talked about current events, with Buddy observing that we all bleed red.
Some of these folks were white. Some were Black. Chatting with all of them was much more enriching than burying my face in my computer (even if not, well, literally). And anyway, I got my chance because evidently the mechanic liked my car so much that he found more things wrong with it and I got to stay longer than any of my new friends.
I have not yet met a southwestern Virginian introvert.
Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about writing things down during these Covid/coronavirus/quarantine times and how I was motivated by the #1000WordsofSummer program. And right after I wrote those words and sent the blog post, it felt like the bad news that’s permeated the United States all of a sudden took an even nastier turn. All at once, it felt like everything changed, and writing about anything other than current events became ridiculously trivial.
But the thing is, even though the news is now full of images of violence and uproar, the real problem is that nothing has changed. Oh, certainly the lives of the loved ones of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery changed immeasurably, very quickly.
But the grief here is that what happened to these people is not new. In the United States, it’s been happening since even before we were the United States. For more than 400 years, we have decided that one group of people is worth less than another group of people, and that view of reality has driven our society ever since. We live in a culture that devalues the personhood of many of its own citizens, all because of the color of their skin. A culture that, yes, needs to be reminded that Black lives do matter.
Yep, we are seeing that this is a time to change, but that’s not new either. It’s been time to change for a long time.
I don’t have words for the sadness I feel for what’s happening, for what’s been happening. I know I’m not alone; it seems like people are fumbling around trying to find some words that help.
I don’t have those words. As I read back over this post, I see a lot of “I feel,” and “it seems like.” Which is another way of admitting that I just don’t know.
I’m going to sit with not knowing for awhile and instead try to listen. And remember to be as kind as I can while we all figure this stuff out.
Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.
I’ve been writing about how the pandemic is affecting my immediate environs, and social media is a rich resource for learning about how everyone is trying to stay healthy and mentally checked-in while quarantined. But there are two groups of folks who would love to hear what YOU are going through!
I’ve mentioned that I do some work with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. A couple of teams I know are working on projects that study how people are getting along in these challenging times. They would love your input.
Personal Coping Strategies
The Anxiety, Stress, and Relationships Lab (part of the clinical psychology program) has an online survey about Covid-19’s effect on interpersonal relationships. Do you have extra people living in your house right now? Are the stresses of the news and changing circumstances impacting how you might be getting along with them? These folks want to know how you are coping. The survey is completely confidential so you can be totally honest about how you might have been eating more cheese, bourbon, or ice cream over the past month. They will not judge you. The survey form also offers resource information to help you out if you need it, and the information they learn will help other people find positive ways to be resilient in the future.
Faith Communities’ Response
Another group at Mason, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is conducting a survey of how religious communities are adapting in the face of the pandemic. The religious studies department is teaming up with the digital history folks to gather input from churches, synagogues, mosques (tell your own community!), as well as from individuals to learn how they are making due when they can’t get to services. If you go to the Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive site, you can also read about the experiences of a variety of religious communities. And then add your own experience. It’s not only interesting as heck but is also a solid reminder that we are all in this mess together.
And if that doesn’t make for a community, I don’t know what does.
I am doing some work with the Smith Mountain Arts Council — just press releases, but that’s enough that they invite me to monthly board meetings — and it’s a sad time for the arts council because we are having to cancel all of our events, of course. This was the subject of some conversation at our last meeting (on Zoom); the council comprises many talented and energetic people (mostly retired) who want to offer some kind of outlet for performance and give their neighbors a chance to get out for an evening.
One of the guys in the group finally spoke out, confessing that he and his wife would absolutely not be going out until they were completely comfortable that it was safe. There was much agreement.
Then I ran into a neighbor this morning who expressed some exasperation that businesses aren’t opening back up quickly enough. I was a little surprised by her reaction, and I’ll admit that was because she is well into her sixties, in a demographic that I assumed would be more on the side of keeping things locked down a little longer.
But that’s just my oversimplified thinking, obviously.
I do a lot of thinking about the people who are “From Here’s” — whose families have lived in Franklin County for hundreds of years, who have Confederate soldiers in their family trees, and who have seen the fortunes of this place rise and fall with manufacturing, tobacco, the railroads, and farming. On the other hand, a lot of us folks around the lake are “Come Here’s” — people who are mostly retired, and who have moved from places in North Carolina and Virginia, certainly, but many of whom are from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (where my neighbor mentioned above originated).
I fall into the trap of thinking that the Come Here’s think one way, and the From Here’s think another. But my conversations over the last couple of days once again illustrate that that’s more than a little naive. Then I default to thinking, gee, I wish I was a historian or sociologist, just to try to make sense of it all.
Tomorrow, I promise, I will lighten up and talk more about fun quarantine activities and pondering if our college son will ever get out of bed before mid-afternoon.
I think I’ve mentioned that where we live is fairly rural.
As with some rural communities, there may be some sense of insulation from the effects of Covid-19 as it sweeps around the world. In fact, someone I know was teased a few weeks ago at a local gardening store when he told the cashier that he would load his own mulch in order to maintain some social distance. “A CUSTOMER IS COMING TO THE LOADING AREA,” she announced over the store’s loudspeaker. “BUT HE DOESN’T NEED HELP BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE!” There was chuckling. This person now buys his mulch from the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount.
(About ten days after this interaction this same establishment went to curbside-only service. No more loitering in the garden store, y’all!)
And indeed, today’s Roanoke Times reports only 16 cases of Covid-19 in Franklin County, with 19 in Bedford County just across the lake.
However, a large population of our neighbors are retired and are very respectful of the threat that the coronavirus presents. You see some folks wearing masks in the stores, and appreciate businesses’ attempts to distance their customers.
We are supporting our small businesses with take-out orders and only venturing out when we need to. But if we went to our windows to bang pots at 7 pm in support of health care workers, I don’t think anyone would hear us.
When I talk to friends in the DC area or our daughter in New York, it is clear that they are living in a world that seems very different, even if I suspect strongly that it is not.