January 19, 2021

SMITH: 2020 matters

We may be glad to be rid of it and have high hopes for 2021, but 2020 still matters — if we learn the lessons it gave us.

(Let’s all just agree that the first week of 2021 was a refresher course, like when you go back to school and the teacher reminds you of all the things you “learned” the year before.)

So what can we learn from 2020?

• Violence gets noticed. So maybe we’d better start paying attention before violence erupts. Black Lives Matters protesters resorted to burning and looting in order to be heard. We didn’t listen in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and the flying of the flag.

I’ll admit I was one of the ones who felt he was disrespecting our nation and our military who fought and died under that flag — that is, until I learned that he spoke to Green Beret Nate Boyer who advised him to kneel instead of sit during the anthem to show respect while still bringing attention to racial injustice.

I wore a uniform for a short time. My family has a strong history of service. I, myself, wouldn’t kneel during the anthem. My innate response is to stand at attention. But I support his right to protest in this way. Our flag is a symbol of freedom and free speech is an integral part of that freedom.

Back to racial injustice. Are we listening now? Did the death of George Floyd get our attention? Did we search ourselves and find the places where we are the problem or at least not a part of the solution?

Another important lesson we can learn from Kaepernick (I know we’re supposed to be focusing on 2020, but maybe it didn’t sink in until last year) is to put your money where your mouth is. He, arguably, lost his job because of his protest. He continued to stand — kneel — firm. He donated to Black activist groups. He continues to speak and write for activist organizations. As before, I don’t agree with all of his politics and how he aims to create justice, but I believe in his right to protest and peacefully work toward racial justice.

Are we taking steps to accomplish the things we believe in? Or are we just complaining and ranting on Facebook?

• Taking care of yourself matters — whether it’s a pillow that lets you sleep comfortably or a token that keeps you seeing what is important in life or five minutes hiding in the bathroom with the box of “good” chocolate. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.

• Sometimes freedom is outweighed by doing what is right. I found a new favorite quote last year — I have lots of them, I like words if you haven’t noticed —

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” — Peter Marshall

I don’t wear a mask if I don’t have to (more on that later) but I fully support that any business has the right to refuse me service if I don’t. I do try to stay six feet away from others. I’ve been practicing for that my whole life. (Introverts unite! But separately, in our own homes.)

I rarely hear people complain that businesses won’t let you in if you don’t have shoes on — to be honest I don’t really like wearing those either — so why not a mask? If a small infringement on my right to an empty face can keep someone else alive or from suffering, isn’t that what I should do?

• You can never know what is behind the mask (or no mask). Claustrophobia is one of many reasons why people cannot handle a piece of cloth on their faces and probably the mildest of them all. If you see someone with no mask, give them the benefit of the doubt and know that you cannot understand the battle they may be fighting. You may be wrong. They could just be a jerk, but what does it hurt you to think kindly of them — from six feet away.

Open that up to everybody, not just about masks. You don’t know what’s behind the too-fake smile on your cashier’s face or the anger that’s bottled up inside the guy that cut you off in traffic. Give kindness and understanding even when it isn’t given to you.

• Small businesses matter. We ate popcorn and got take out and shopped local as much as we could to support our local small business during the pandemic. Some of those businesses made it, some did not. For some, it remains to be seen. Remember this when you are free to roam freely about the land and shop and eat without restriction.

Our small businesses are still the backbone of our local economy. They are also the ones that support our Little League and Girl Scouts and raise money or donate when someone has a life-changing accident or illness.

• Time is short. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Make that phone call. Write that letter. Paint that painting. Sing the song. Make memories.

• Learn the lessons. That is how we make 2020 matter. There will be lessons to learn in 2021 as well. Let’s not have to learn the same ones again.

•••

Let me know what matters to you at rsmith@crestonnews.com, 641-782-2141 ext. 6433, or c/o Creston News Advertiser, 503 W. Adams St., Creston, Iowa 50801.

REGINA SMITH

Reporter, columnist, teacher, children's book author, book store owner - Regina Smith has a wide range of experience in writing and education. She combines those interests and experiences to cover city and county government and human interest stories as well as writing a biweekly column in her home town of Creston, Iowa.