Something to take with us.
Well that was pretty messed up, wasn’t it? 2020 came right up on us full of bluster, already a notable year – pending impeachment vote, election year, Olympics looming, a round number type year. Rolled off the tongue. 2020.
But somewhere in China, near a market in one of the nation’s myriad massive cities, (Wuhan is 40 percent bigger than NYC, with 11 million people, barely cracking China’s top 10) a person started coughing, and running a fever.
And then another. And one by one we began to pause and look over our shoulders and wonder, what is that noise I hear? It was the sound of chaos, of instability.
Suddenly everything we knew was upended – friends and relatives sick or dead, basic goods and services – toilet paper, the ability to pay rent, where you worked, if you worked at all, our very social constructs such as crowds, dining, movies, hell anything – all blown to hell.
And leaders failed to lead. States were left to fend for themselves, distrust was sown into the very fabric of our political blanket, and in the midst of viral (in many ways) chaos, the issue of race, of inequality, of hate and intolerance was injected into the conversation. In the midst of the worst societal crisis in 100 years we somehow found a way to hate each other. Those with the capacity to bring us closer, to get us to pull in the same direction on the rope flailed in a bubble of self interest and ignorance of the facts.
And somehow we, and by we I mean the run of the mill, the average, the grinders, the working class, found a way through the year. Because what else would we do?
Still, 330,000 people are dead, our economy is in tatters despite the lies of the Dow Jones, the only beneficiaries of the pandemic those at the top, who gained trillions of dollars in value while the rest of us were left to bicker on social media, retreat to our tribes and post memes.
That’s a great trick, the ultimate troll job – those who own and profit from those companies creating a circular firing squad while cramming advertising into our “feeds.” Same for the canned media, allowing talking heads to convince you that the “other” people were the problem. Shame on all of them.
Yet in the midst of the storm, there were powerful moments, images and videos shared, that uplifted, that reminded us that we still have the capacity to love, to share, to be kind – to everyone – just like we try to teach our littlest citizens.
Which brings me to this video.
It’s from November of 2018. The teacher was a first grade teacher named Zelene Blancas, at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School in El Paso, Texas. She had the loving idea on the last day of school to let kids hug, fist bump, or shake hands as they left for the day.
The images are striking as each child smiled, giggled, looked excited or maybe shy, but rolled out that door for the most part grinning ear to ear. Children of all colors, backgrounds, many new to the United States, eager to be a part of a place with such promise.
Blancas died of Covid-19 in December.
That should never have happened. Those in charge failed her. Her young life should never have been snuffed out by a virus. But she is gone, left behind are those kids who will mourn her. My mother was a teacher. The greatest joy in her life was the interactions with her kids. She would sit and read to them and comfort them and love them, and hug them. There is no better example of how to treat a fellow human that that of a teacher sitting in too small a chair, twisting around into a funny shape so all kids can see the pictures in the book as they read to them. It might be the best expression of humanity I can think of.
My mom is gone. Cancer tragically took her in 2012. Ms. Blancas is gone, another horrible pathogen, unfeeling, uncaring, taking her as well.
But what she left us was that video of those children. She left us an image of how it ought to be, not just for 6 year olds, but 35, 45, 65 year olds. Slapping a heart on a wall. Hugging. Promises of see you soon.
That image is the one I’m going to use for 2021. I need the compass to point in the right direction. We all do. And maybe, when it’s safe to gather again, we all line up and hug.