I started this piece, the one you’re about to read (I hope so anyway), the week before the inauguration of the Biden administration. But I got stuck in the inertia of the crosswinds of emotions due in large part to COVID-19 death numbers reaching 400K and punched in the gut by the shocking images of the January 6th storming of the Capital building in our nation’s capital.
Now despite my initial low expectations of another ho-hum inauguration, the daylong inauguration on January 21st tossed me a lifeline, a string of cathartic moments. To see America at its finest on full display was a much needed shot in the arm, a feeling of the turning of a new leaf.
“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes…” -President Joe Biden
Reenergized now, I start off once again with the gift that keeps on giving; the sage words of Charles Dickens in his Tale of Two Cities, “These are the best of times and the worst of times!” (you decide which one).
Thus, when a tumultuous year 2020 meets a weary year 2021, an opportunity to somehow heal and find hope, to reshape a vision for our future, we’re confronted with a defining question, which way America? – a question I asked myself when smoke from the fireworks cleared over the Capital late into the evening of the inauguration.
So which way America?
Now the truth is that America is grieving, there’s no other way to put it. Americans from all stripes are suffering from fear, stress, anxiety, loathing and bitterness.
You can see it on the faces of frontline workers, on teachers and public service personnel and on those working multiple jobs just to put food on the table. You can see it in the media, in letters to the editor and hear it in one-on-one conversations. You can see it on the faces of people waiting in long lines at foodbanks or awaiting vaccine shots.
You could see it in the eyes above masked (some unmasked by necessity) brown and white faces caught on camera during the daylong inauguration; many dabbing or holding back tears.
Fragile, hurt, confused, fearful, but in dire need for healing, people today – especially today – want some sense of hope.
“Fragile” is not the word we normally associate with Americans,” wrote Michele Norris of the Washington Post. But fragile we are, arguably more than ever. “Fragile like an egg; or economy, our sense of security, or national psyche,” she wrote.
So today we must ask ourselves, honestly, are we at the prologue, the beginning, or the epilogue, or the end? And the key question is what can we do as individuals to turn the tide, to influence the better outcome?
Maybe we start by looking to last year’s history to remind ourselves of the heroes and heroines who emerged during such challenging times; those who sacrificed their livelihoods and lives to stem the tide of COVID-19.
Maybe we begin by giving ourselves a collective pat on the back for what we managed to accomplish in the face a devastating pandemic; among them vaccines developed in warp speed, the largest voter turnout in US history, the first female person of color elected vice president of the United States and many other things we can be proud of.
Maybe we begin by just counting our blessings for the good things that happened in our lives and the lives of others.
So today we find ourselves at the dawn of a new day, an opportunity to deliver on the original promise of America, an opportunity to harness the national unity as we did after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other national tragedies, an opportunity to become a more welcoming nation and to appeal to our better selves.
If I were to select three words that epitomize what it means to be American during challenging times, our caring, compassionate and resilient would be those words.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” -Robert Frost
So which way America?
Which road America? © Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, TheBlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award