To say 2020 was a challenging year would be a bit of an understatement. And to add insult to injury, as the year wrapped up and we begin another, we see a pandemic that is getting worse, not better, after ten long months and even as vaccines begin. We see our neighbors and beloved local businesses struggling to keep their heads above water under mounting bills and with minimal assistance. We see our children struggling with remote learning and missing essential social interactions. We see our country suffering from death, loss, and a bitter election that has demonstrated how tenuous democracy can be. As others have said, no matter how it may appear on the outside, we don’t have to dig too deep to see that this has all taken a toll on all of us. The stress is real and sustained.
Despite all these troubles and struggles, my heart is warmed when I reflect back on how our community has handled a year when it seemed nothing could go right. Hillsborough, by and large, understood immediately the real danger posed by COVID-19 and has remained committed to the best public health practices to keep ourselves and each other not just alive and healthy, but thriving to the greatest extent possible. Three times in the past six weeks, Governor Cooper has unveiled new coding for the 100 counties in the state, and all three times I have breathed a sigh of relief when I see Orange County at the lowest level (yellow, which unfortunately still signifies significant community spread). I do not know if that status can be sustained during the current surge, given that viruses do not abide by county borders, but it does signify that people here are trying their best, and it is making a difference. Thank you.
When protests erupted across the country, the state, and here at home in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, I was profoundly moved by the number and diversity — by every measure — of people I saw and heard expressing the need and demand for an end to racial injustice. People – many of them under 20 - spoke painful truths. And people listened. I believe our town is eager to make Hillsborough truly equitable and folks are in it for the long haul. The Mayor’s Task Force on Re-Imagining Public Safety meets for the second time next week. I encourage you to follow along the work of this remarkable group of Hillsborough residents who are eager to engage on this topic for our community.
Throughout this long ordeal of a public health emergency and resulting economic hardship, I have seen Hillsborough make every effort to invest in the local economy, finding ways to support our retailers, our restaurants and bars, our writers, and our visual and performing artists. I have seen people of all income levels find a way to help others with food, housing, or other needs. Regardless of means, people have found a way to help others for the simple reason they care about their hometown and the people in it.
There is much more, of course. There are more stories big and small over the past year that reveal our community’s heart and ability to come together across difference. I encourage each of us to reflect and share these stories with each other. It is important to remember, as we head into perhaps the most challenging part of the pandemic yet at the beginning 2021, the relationships that bind us together and make our collective surviving and thriving possible. This sharing and remembering will feed our hope for the light at the end of the tunnel.
Hope is a practice. It is a muscle that has to be exercised to stay strong and bright. I find hope in the fact that vaccines are being administered and that at least one of these life-saving measures had a Hillsborough local — Dr. Kizzy Corbett — on the development team. I find hope in the commitment of my colleagues on the town board and our incredible town staff to serve this community under arduous circumstances. I find hope in our collective ability to depend on each other. I find hope in the constant presence of the Eno River and Occoneechee Mountain that have been here through times more troublesome than even this.
Around Thanksgiving, a friend and Hillsborough neighbor dropped off a book they thought I’d enjoy reading: Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-town Politics, by Heather Lende. The book details Ms. Lende’s experience serving on the town assembly of Haines, Alaska, a tiny little town of about 1800 people. Though smaller than Hillsborough, the small town experience is much the same – an ethos of people looking out for each other, taking care of each other, knowing each other, and at times, struggling with each other. It’s a great read, and one that I recommend. Ms. Lende experiences some real challenges during her service on the assembly, but ends the book on a positive note with a chapter opened with this quote by historian Howard Zinn:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic…And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
As 2021 unfolds, I am thankful that the slice of heaven that is Hillsborough is full of people committed to living in community with each other even when we are physically separated, understanding and finding joy in our interconnectedness, eager to give a helping hand to make each today better, and a brighter tomorrow inevitable, for all of us.