COOK FOREST, Pennsylvania — It has just finished snowing here, and the forest looks magical, draped in white. It takes on a silvery blue shine under the blue sky that emerged after the storm finished leaving its mark. The silence is soon broken by the crunching of snowshoes off in the distance.
Southwest of here, a handful of anglers fishing the drift of the Slippery Rock Creek breaks the silence of the surrounding forest. At Laurel Hill, it is the rustling of the leftover fall leaves, softened by age and weather, under the weight of hikers’ boots.
Along the High Bridge, the snow that is piled on the towering old Western Maryland Railroad tracks that span the gorge over the Youghiogheny River fails to deter cross-country skiers along the Great Allegheny Passage trail as the swooshes of their skis are the only sounds for miles.
Sometimes, it is the small things that make the loudest sounds. Sometimes, it is the loudest things that make insignificant impacts. It is in the former where we can find peace, meaning and purpose. It is in the latter that we find confusion and distrust.
This old year is wearing down, and the new year beckons. In that span of time, all of us have lost something. Some of us have lost everything. None of us will ever be the same. That is the cut that hurts the most.
Americans, whether their families have been here for several generations or they just gained their citizenship, are fiercely aspirational. We thrive on being part of something bigger than ourselves, even if the “big” isn’t that big. Americans are fiercely tied to traditions, community, faith, family and service, all of which are slivers of the defining moments of our lives and all of which have fallen in the wake of the pandemic.
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As they have fallen, many have gone from fearing they might never come back to losing hope they ever will. It is a note we don’t just end the year with, but it is a reality we begin the new year with.
The things we don’t want to come back in 2021 that most assuredly will are the combative public rhetoric in our politics and the politics of the coronavirus. The other thing that will most assuredly and unfortunately come back will be the constant drum of fear and gloom.
President-elect Joe Biden set the tone of his approach to leadership last week when he said the “darkest days” in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic “are ahead of us, not behind us,” and he urged people to prepare themselves for the dark struggle.
His words hang out there, and many wonder what more do they want people to give up. How much more loss of treasure, community, family, liberty and livelihood are we supposed to give up? And how is it that we’ve allowed the government to continue to pick who the winners and losers are in these restrictions?
We’ve adapted all the ways we’ve been told to: wearing masks in public, avoiding crowds, social distancing, frequent hand-washing, testing and quarantine rules. And you tell us the darkness we are in now is nothing compared with what we are about to face?
Americans need something to aspire to — a purpose or someone who will take us to a better place. If 2020 taught us anything, then it taught us that that journey upward will not come from a politician, nor will it come from the loudest voices, which means it will likely come from within us as a people. That might be the best news for 2021.