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Hope in an age of fear

Guest Editorial

By Ed Wolff

We all remember where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day, Sept. 11, 2001. It was not only a historical day for this nation, but it was a day that affected the morale, values and attitudes of its people.

It’s interesting that I also remember where my wife, Frankie, and I were the following Saturday evening, Sept. 15.  We were living in Florence, South Carolina. By that time, almost every vehicle we saw was sporting American flags. One of the most popular radio stations initiated a rally that Saturday evening at one of the local parks. I was asked to provide the opening prayer. Included in the prayer was asking for Divine strength, discernment, and guidance through the perilous times ahead, seeking patience and understanding, along with the wisdom of our future action because of who we were as a nation.

Immediately after the prayer, the talk show host began to speak, suggesting punitive revenge, an eye-for-an-eye, and to provide a demonstration of the destructive power of our nation. My wife and I looked at each other and agreed to leave as fast as we could. This was not the atmosphere of patience, discernment and hope for which we wished.

The air was filled with fear. I believe this was an initial example of what we as a nation have embraced — a knee-jerk reaction of fear. I also believe that the “powers that be” have used this internalized fear to manipulate the masses to respond in such a way that will benefit even more those with wealth and power.

Fear has peeled away our cultural scab, revealing systemic racism, female inequality, religious intolerance and halted our nation’s ability to embrace all varieties of diversity.

For an example of the use of fear, just read about our nation’s leader talking about having a big nuclear button.

But, realistically speaking, there’s not much I can do about that comment and many other such actions.

Let me explain my personal feelings. As many people know, I am strongly committed to the concept of Stewardship of the Earth. Yet, I read about many national climate, endangered species, nursing home, gulf water regulations that are being reversed. I can’t stop those actions.

I read about actions in our nation that reveal the ugliness of racism. I get angry about that. And, I read about the objectification of women and sense hope that there are signs the culture might be changing.

In the midst of what I believe to be living in our cultural and national fear, I gain much comfort, reassurance and motivation by experiencing life in our town, Jonesborough.  Sure, the feelings do not disappear.  Some of them may always remain.  However, living in Jonesborough gives me a sense of what it means to live not only in a community, but experience life in community. For me, an example is an organization such as The Farmers Market, along with the Boone’s Street Market.  The Farmers Market has been called, “The Front Porch of Jonesborough.”  Besides shopping, it’s a time for fellowship.  When I visit the Boone Street Market, I know I’m connecting with farmers within a 100 mile radius, many of whom I know.  I walk downtown and am greeted in a friendly way on the street and in the stores by people I might not even know.  I might end up at The Corner Cup, which has been called “The Living Room of Jonesborough.”  One person said to me that if he was feeling lonely, or bored, all he needed to do was get a cup of coffee there and sit down for good conversation.  Furthermore, I don’t want to forget Music on the Square. (It’s one of the reasons we moved to Jonesborough.).  It reminds me of my teenage days and the time when the community came together for a community band concert, listening to good music while connecting with friends and meeting new ones. There are other similar experiences that many people in Jonesborough could cite.

Living in Jonesborough is not idyllic. There are problems, differences of opinions and perspectives, disagreements, and challenges, issues of power and control, and some group separation by differences of birth, economics, religion, location and status.  Yet, these differences are openly recognized with discussions and commitments to change within human limitations.  There is a common desire to be compassionately connected.

World and national challenges are beyond most of our ability to correct. However, we, in Jonesborough, are blessed to have a positive local culture which is a strong foundation in which we can continue to improve and demonstrate to ourselves, within our region, our state, and — yes — to our nation, how to live within community.