What a week this has been! I’m not sure if there are enough words in our language to accurately describe what we have experienced as a community over these past days. A month ago, we were locked into a familiar pattern that saw Thursday’s snow lead to Saturday’s skiers. Our hotels and restaurants were filled with visitors and we were optimistic that a strong fall and winter was going to keep early 2020 moving in a positive economic direction.
Fast forward to today and the surroundings and circumstances we knew as the bedrocks of our community became covered in uncertainty. Every day has birthed a new challenge to overcome. As the days pass, these challenges manifest into conversations we never thought we’d have with our families, friends and co-workers. While some communities have the economic diversity to absorb a major blow to certain sectors, our area depends on so many of the things that have been ripped from us under these circumstances. The displacement of our students, visitors and unfortunately, too many faces of a workforce that serve as they backbone to our unique, thriving businesses, has left a void.
What we are faced with next could bring more hardship to the most impacted sectors of our community. As we watch trends develop in other areas of the world, we are left wondering “what does this mean for us in Watauga County”? Through the noise, we all hear the chatter that this situation will eventually dissipate and there is, in fact, light at the end of the tunnel. We are all hopeful that light appears sooner than later.
What will keep us together? What has held our community tight through tough times before?
The answer is compassion!
Outsiders often reveal that the High Country is different, and our people are special. Our community traits that warrant such high praise rest in who we are and how we live. All week, amid some of the most chaotic times we’ve seen in decades, compassion has been on display.
We’ve seen teachers and administrators from kindergarten to graduate school move their learning labs from the reading circle to Zoom meetings. Their efforts are fueled by the children and young adults they serve. They desperately desire to bring normalcy to so many that rely on the safe spaces, and the enriching and steady environments they create.
We’ve seen a communitywide effort to ensure our vulnerable populations don’t go without food or necessary supplies. Strong-minded social and faith-based groups have teamed up with volunteers, working swiftly and creatively to guarantee those without access to transportation, reliable food sources, or a steady paycheck, do not go without the supplies they need. These organizers have their own health and economic concerns, but their desire to aid others fuels the assembly line and keeps the food boxes packed.
Community members have united behind their neighbors. In simply adjusting our habits, we have found ways to still enjoy items from our favorite restaurant or retail shop. This dedication is helping these local businesses stretch their capacity during a time of decreased customer volume. Small business owners have been moved to tears as they watch their loyal customers and friends find a way to make that purchase. Customers have been emotionally impacted as well, watching their neighbors do everything they can to continue to provide a sense of community through their lobbies and storefronts.
Total strangers have put their minds together to solve logistical challenges. People with bulk supplies have shifted those extra resources toward community projects, helping to speed up delivery of essential resources. People staring down their own issues and realities have stopped to ask, “how can I help my neighbor.” This is us — this is Boone, N.C. — this is Watauga County.
Our community compassion separates us from the rest. We shovel snow when it gets too deep, we put our arms around problems and work together to solve them, and this week, we find an extra dollar to grab a cup of coffee from that local business that has become part of our everyday lives. Our community has survived floods, blizzards and plenty of economic mood swings before. We’ve overcome these turbulent times together, and we will need that same spirit to permeate once again.
The extra dollar you spend on that cup of coffee, the book you buy online from a local retailer instead of a global factory or that extra step you take to make a local purchase from a small business provides a boost of morale that in incomprehensible. Those impacted then become motivated to pay it forward and will find a way to support their neighbor.
This is the community spread we need — compassion for one another.
Compassion is intangible, not always presenting like a physical gift. Maybe it looks like creativity when dealing with a person who is experiencing changes in their personal income? Maybe it comes in the form of finding a recently displaced worker and offering that person a chance to get back on their feet? Maybe it could simply come in asking someone how they are doing and truly caring about the answer?
There are some of our neighbors that are scared by what they see and read, some that don’t do well with isolation. Let’s look out for these people, offering them our support and assurance. This is Boone! We have seen more people outside walking dogs, playing basketball in the driveway and connecting (from a distance) with neighbors than ever before. Be safe and health aware, knowing that your interactions don’t have to be within proximity. A simple hello to a neighbor sitting on the porch as you walk or drive by could very well be the spark in an otherwise troublesome day.
Uncertainty may be present in what we face today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead, but know that our ability to unite around each other will remain the one constant that will guide us through these challenging times.
While the debriefs, strategic thinking and discussion on how we can become more resilient and economically diverse as a community are vital, our neighbors also need our kindness. The most important thing we can do is show up for one another, demonstrate compassion towards one another, and be ready to rebuild as a flourishing community, not just a collection of individuals.
This is us — this is Boone, N.C. — this is Watauga County. When times are tough, this is what we do!