Simply keeping up with the news of rolling disasters has been quite an exercise in 2020. Time feels more distorted than ever in this, the seventh month of the pandemic life.
In September, California, Oregon and Washington suffered the worst fire season on record. The Key Peninsula fared well despite multiple small brush fires. A potentially larger fire, just over the county line in Kitsap, pictured on the front page of this issue, was brought under control thanks to the fast-acting assistance of a Washington State Department of Natural Resources helicopter crew, who spotted it by accident. It could have been so much worse.
On my way to the mailbox, air still thick with acrid smoke, an Anna’s hummingbird flew up and hovered at eye level. I imagined her to be one of several nesting pairs whose fledglings buzzed us all season. “Yes, Mama Hummer, it’s awful. No, I don’t like it either,” I said aloud. She flew off and disappeared in the haze. Hummingbird lungs — one more thing to fret about.
Our grandson recently headed out with a strike team of wildland firefighters bound for California. It’s hard to believe the tiny infant I held neatly confined to my chest 28 years ago is now 6 foot 5 inches tall and off to fight wildfire in a disaster zone. We agreed there is nothing like talking to your favorite grandma before launching into danger. He tells me not to worry. Imagine that?
You don’t have to be a first responder to relate to the queasy restlessness that comes with anticipation of the unknown. Many of us are struggling to cope. You are not alone. We are all doing the best we can each day. Some days are good, others — not so much. Practice being loving and compassionate toward yourself. Extend that generous sense of grace by doing the same toward others.
We find ourselves again at the precipice with flu season and COVID-19 combining to threaten a second wave of illness as people are forced inside where the coronavirus spreads with ease. It is going to take a new round of vigilance and teamwork to get through this winter, only achieved through a determined and unified sense of common purpose as we face the most critical national election of our time.
Every two years we are whipped into a relative frenzy with the rhetoric, the fear mongering, the mud-slinging campaigning everyone complains about but does little to curb. The tribal mentality of “us versus them” is so corrosive to civil society one wonders if or when we will rediscover the genuine nature of our shared humanity, or appreciate the values we claim brought us all together in the first place.
For all the chest-thumping over inalienable American rights to freedom, to worship, to love and prosper — to live our lives authentically as we choose to be the unique individuals we are — it all rings hollow in the face of a global pandemic that killed at least 204,000 very real Americans as of this last week in September.
At the end of August, it was 180,000.
The people living on the Key Peninsula have always been a little better, or at least we like to think so. We know from experience that friends and neighbors committed to strengthening our community work side by side, volunteering together long enough to form bonds that surpass politics and foster open sharing of ideas, even drastically different than your own.
The big question is what can we do better to make it through the fall and winter together while keeping our social distance and holding the line against COVID-19?
We can find new ways to reach out and connect with each other. There is nothing I miss more than a hug.
That’s what the famous local legend Ricky did, an apprentice flagger who worked for many months on the new bridge over Minter Creek. What made this guy a local celebrity popular with everyone? (See “Friendly Flagger Earns KP Celebrity Status,” KP News, May 2020.)
He smiled. He waved. He gave people a thumbs up after they’d been sitting in long lines of traffic when State Route 302 was down to one lane. At first, commuters were unaware that he waved to everyone, thinking that somehow they caught his eye and that each wave and every smile was just for them.
I think it really was. There is a lesson for all of us to remember in this story. That one person, with an open smile and a heartfelt wave made drivers who inched past him feel acknowledged and even special. In a way, he gave us hugs and we hugged him back in our minds.
Ricky gave us a template for civility and kindness. Now, it’s up to each of us to do that for each other. True bridges are built on the power of love. A new bridge can start with you.