Longtime Tribune readers who watch bylines may associate my name, over many years’ time, with stories about agriculture and natural resources.
If that’s the case, I’m pleased. I’ve long considered those topics to be in my wheelhouse, reflecting my personal and professional experience, my heritage, my own interests, and the day-to-day concerns of friends and family.
In pandemic days, however, I — like so many workers across our region — have adjusted and done what I need to do. And that has meant writing fewer stories about the NRDs (natural resources districts) and many, many more about the PHDs (public health districts) in Tribland.
Several nights a week since March, around 9 o’clock, I have gone to my basement laundry room at home to capture the latest updates from our region’s health districts concerning the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and put together a story for the next morning’s newspaper containing the news of the day.
If ag and natural resources stories are my comfort zone, health care stories are the opposite. In reflecting on why that is, I have determined part of the problem is the contradiction in terminology health care involves. In most of life, for example, positivity is a good thing. But in the realm of epidemiology, the word “positive” often is bad news, while the word “negative” is good. Whether it’s cancer or COVID-19 we’re talking about, “negative” is music to our ears, whereas “positive” causes our hearts to sink into our stomachs. So, especially to someone like me, who flinches at the sight of blood and needles, anyway, writing all these stories about positives that are really negative is a weird and unsettling experience.
As I said before, though, for me and many of the other workers who have been fortunate enough to remain on the job — whatever that job is — since last spring, “doing what needs to be done” has been the key, and the order of the day.
Starting in late March, Tribune newsroom employees were encouraged to begin working from home as much as possible for health and safety reasons. While I set up my grandmother’s old card table in the laundry room as my makeshift “home Tribune office,” and spent many hours sitting there over the ensuing months, I never was able to avoid at least one trip per day to our locked and lonely newsroom downtown — meaning I never stopped getting out of the house on a daily basis.
While my teacher-wife shuttled between home and her empty school, helping our children with their packet learning while also planning packet lessons for her fourth-graders, I also was designated as the household shopper — making our weekly trips for groceries and running errands at the drugstore, post office and elsewhere, while continuing to circulate in the community on a very limited basis for stories and news coverage.
Through those experiences during the strangest time I’ve ever lived through, I came to realize that, all uncertainty and anxiety notwithstanding, “positivity” still has a positive meaning in today’s world — and much of the proof of that can be found in the workers the Tribune salutes today.
At the grocery store and in convenience stores, I saw stockers and checkers and deli workers and managers who never stopped telling customers to “have a good day” from behind their face masks.
At restaurant take-out counters and drive-through windows, I encountered employees in masks and plastic gloves who never stopped smiling with their eyes, and never stopped doing what they do to serve the community, despite the inherent risks they were taking just by being at work.
Through curbside service, telephone transactions, and even home delivery of certain products, business and government workers in Hastings and other Tribland communities never stopped finding ways to connect their customers with the goods and services they needed or wanted. Despite the risks, despite the fears, despite the personal or business distress they may have been experiencing, they never gave up.
In unprecedented times, our economy has not collapsed because we never stopped working and never stopped serving one another, even as we tried to safeguard our own families’ safety and well-being. I’d say that deserves a salute.
I could go on and on about the ways our friends and neighbors have persevered in these days of trouble.
I could write about our dedicated health workers and those who care for our senior citizens in times of facility lockdowns, trying to bring smiles and reassurance to faces when there has seemed to be little to smile about.
I could write about pastors finding a way to preach inspiring sermons to a camera from locked church sanctuaries, in some cases bolstered by photographs of their congregation members lovingly fastened to the pews.
I could write about utility workers, construction workers, farmers and ranchers, food processing employees, police and fire personnel, EMTs, and all those who kept getting up every morning and going to work because, even in a pandemic, the world keeps on turning.
I could write about teachers seeking ways to stay connected to their students, both academically and emotionally, and the seemingly countless number of “honkaround” events last spring designed to lift spirits and fortify relationships in a time of physical distancing.
Finally, I could write about those who did lose their jobs or were furloughed, and the many senior citizens and others who had nowhere to go in March and April and May and, in some cases, even now. They did what they could to stay engaged, find encouragement, and — when possible — to serve others through such efforts as face mask sewing and other works of home-based charity.
Much as we would like to believe otherwise, our days of trouble aren’t over. The virus still is moving in our communities. Many of our seniors still are in lockdown.
While schools are open again and many of our community activities have resumed at this point, a great number of people still are suffering, physically, emotionally, financially and otherwise, as a result of the pandemic. We will be dealing with the fallout from this crisis for years if not decades to come.
This is no time for valedictory pronouncements about 2020 and COVID-19, as if all our troubles are in the rear-view mirror. They aren’t.
Still, while a crisis like COVID-19 can turn our world upside down in many ways, we should never let it define who we are as a community. And at this juncture, I’m proud to say we Triblanders have not done that.
As we keep plowing forward, keep solving problems one at a time, keep investing strategically in community infrastructure, and keep serving each other in every way possible, the people of Tribland are demonstrating in 2020 that we have not lost faith in ourselves, each other or the future. That’s worth celebrating.
Each night after supper during last spring’s school outage, my children would get ready for bed while I disappeared into the basement to “write COVID.” Once I had finished the article and sent it electronically to Tami Humphreys, our layout editor, I would stow my laptop and bound up the stairs to find Ruth and the kids sitting on our bed, where I would join them and we would read stories together until they fell asleep.
For me, that opportunity to spend time with my family at the end of each day has been the absolute best part of the ordeal we’ve all been living through together.
“At the end of the day,” as we say, faith, family and community are what it’s all about, and what inspire and animate all our efforts.
Thank you all for what you have done — and what you’re still doing — to keep our families and communities strong. Please be safe, and be well.
I mean that. Positively.
Andy Raun is editor and news director of the Hastings Tribune. Reach him at 402-303-1419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.