Keeping the faith in better times ahead

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As we head into a summer without many of our favorite activities and events, it might seem a strange time to count our blessings – but it’s worth doing as we strive to maintain a sense of perspective and a thread of hopefulness in the midst of a pandemic that won’t loosen its grip.

Chief among my blessings is trying to turn at least some of the negatives that we’ve been facing into positives. That came to mind as I recalled my good fortune at being able to attend, over the last two years, the graduation ceremonies of both of my daughters: my oldest, Arianna, in 2018, from Bridgewater State University, and my youngest, Alana, in 2019, from Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School, in Franklin, Massachusetts.

As I thought of the joy that those two milestones gave me, I now realize that I should not have taken either commencement ceremony for granted.

This year, for the Class of 2020, a virtual ceremony was the norm more often than not. Some schools have postponed commencement to late summer – even though there’s no guarantee that it will take place.

Canceled or postponed graduations are, of course, just one sign of this Lost Spring. But we have a choice: We can either lament our losses or we can be thankful for some of the alternatives being held in their place, no matter how unfulfilling.

That’s how I approached a “virtual 5K” that I participated in to benefit the music program in North Attleboro’s schools. The last several years, the race has been a favorite spring tradition of mine because it features about 200 runners and walkers dressed in costumes representing different musical eras – the ’60s, for instance – as well as high school students playing some of each era’s iconic tunes along the 3.1-mile route. The music, which would get your adrenaline going, was a nice way to psyche up the runners. 

This year’s race was markedly different, like everything else during our now-solitary existence. Running on my own was tough because no one was pushing me. But, determined not to let the pandemic end this tradition, I decided it was better to run alone than to pass up the race, as I had originally intended. (I was also inspired by my daughter, who ran the race as part of her training for her college cross-country team. I’m impressed that she’s sticking with her training despite the uncertainty over whether  Johnson & Wales, like many universities, will actually let students live on campus in the fall, or even allow sports.)

I had a similar decision to make about whether to participate in a virtual version of a large charitable event after its in-person fundraisers became a casualty of COVID-19. My initial reaction to the Greater Attleboro Relay For Life being forced online was deep disappointment, because I’ve been a part of this benefit for the American Cancer Society for 20 years, including the last three on the volunteer organizing committee.

For several days, I viewed the cancellation of the brick-and-mortar event as one more thing that has been snatched from us by the deadly pandemic.

But after sulking for a while, I eventually let go of my funk. Instead of dwelling on what was lost, I remembered what had been accomplished over the last two decades: hundreds of thousands of dollars raised to help cancer patients. I also remembered how inspiring it was to see cancer survivors walk around a track.

Those memories restored my faith in what people can accomplish when they work together, and convinced me to dedicate myself to raising money for the virtual events, which take place June 7 and June 12. I’ve since been pleasantly surprised by the support of so many donors, whose generous contributions have been uplifting.

As for the things that we’ll all be missing this summer – travel to popular vacation spots, the Boston Pops and the Newport jazz and folk festivals, July 4th fireworks and parades, and relaxing afternoons and evenings watching baseball at McCoy Stadium – there will be no replacing them, except, perhaps, online.

The only way we’ll be able to get through these difficult times is to keep the faith that eventually the pandemic – and the draconian restrictions that have accompanied it – will go away, and that a vaccine will be created sooner rather than later.

Without that belief, it would be impossible for us to cling to the one thing that we’ll all need the most this summer and beyond: hope.

LARRY KESSLER (larrythek65@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.