This morning I read an email from a fellow genealogist Thomas MacEntee. He said “Don’t give up on 2020” and explained how even in these uncertain times we should stay positive. I couldn’t agree more! While the world seems so negative around us, we need to find and share hope and positivity that does exist and to remember not to allow politics and division to define us as Americans. I live in Alabama and have not seen my parents for a year, something unprecedented for me. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer so I quarantined myself for 14 days and drove (almost) straight through to their home in Missouri. We had a great week together. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and we of course shared family history stories and scanned many photos. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world!
As I headed back home late last week, I spent the night in Tupelo, MS. I had chosen the hotel from a chain I know well, but I hadn’t booked a room. When I drove into the parking lot, I was dismayed to see it full; and was afraid I wouldn’t get a room. As I got out of my car I noticed that the vehicles around me were all trucks. BIG trucks. King-cab pickups with empty trailers and utility bucket trucks. When I entered the lobby there was a crowd of men milling around and looking simply worn out.
I got one of the last rooms and asked one of the men what was up. He replied that they were utility linemen from Illinois who had been on the Gulf Coast helping to restore power. I let it sink in for a while. I really wanted to hug every one of them. You see the more I thought about it, I realized they represent the America we REALLY are, not the one we hear about at every turn. They looked like Americans – every skin color in our national family. I noticed they had “packed” their few personal items not in suitcases but in plastic bags. They needed to be mobile, dry and self-reliant. They rode south together in trucks without space or concern for necessities. They took with them only what they needed to work long hours with little sleep or breaks. They did their job, and then headed back home empty of cargo and exhausted. There were at least 15 utility trucks in the parking lot when I left early the next day and I noticed dozens of others on the interstate as I headed south.
I think it is a safe bet to say that the crews didn’t condition their support on knowing the racial or political makeup of the neighborhoods they worked in. They heard the call for help and they selflessly answered it, without hesitation.
A decade ago I worked on a government project on public resilience that asked the question, “How will Americans react to a major cataclysmic event?” We studied natural disasters, man-made events and pandemics including the 1918-1920 Influenza Pandemic to the 2003 SARS outbreak. One of the clearest results of the study was the desire of Americans to help others in need. No matter if it is a tornado, wildfire, hurricane or pandemic, most of the support given comes not from the government but from private citizens and non-profit organizations.
The ongoing events of 2020 make it seem we are experiencing a constant state of division and uncertainty. However Americans time and time again have proven their willingness to help their fellow man, woman and child. Perhaps today we can take comfort in that American ideal above all else.