By: Chandra DeNap Whetstine
Every day my three-year-old son wakes up and asks if COVID19 is still here and I have to say, “Yes. Yes, baby, it is.” Inevitably his little face falls as he says, “but I wanted to go to Mima’s house.”
For as long as any of my three sons can remember, we have spent the holidays at my in-laws’. That is where they get unlimited hot cocoa, where Santa brings them gifts, and where there is an endless parade of delicious food and warm hugs. Home is nice, but Mima’s is heaven for them.
Unfortunately, this year it isn’t to be. This year, in an effort to limit my elderly relatives’ potential exposure to the Coronavirus, our family made the difficult decision not to make the trek to the midwest. It felt too risky and now it just feels too sad.
The last nine months have been rough on our family, and I know they have been on you, too. We’ve been isolated; we’ve been scared; we’ve been stressed. And yet, we have learned how to build and keep our relationships in new ways. We’ve had family Zoom parties and online church trivia nights. Our older boys play games with friends online and our toddler loves to Facetime with anyone who will pay attention to him.
And that is what has kept me going at work, too. The One America Movement is about building relationships so that we can tackle the tough challenges our communities face. We weren’t about to turn our back on our commitment to those communities just because we couldn’t meet in person this year. The challenges in our communities right now are too great – from food insecurity to the opioid epidemic to racism. And our divides – be they over politics, religion, or even how we are handling the Coronavirus – are too deep to let them settle in while we isolate at home.
So this year, the One America Movement moved online. We held virtual events for chapters across the country, provided a space for community leaders to grapple with the polarization of the 2020 election, and facilitated training and support – all online.
It wasn’t the same as being in person. We couldn’t shake hands or hug our neighbors. We couldn’t share a meal. But there was a special kind of intimacy to it, in being able to see each other’s faces up close on the screen, in getting a peek into each other’s houses and lives. We met each other’s pets and kids and saw one another’s kitchens and family rooms. We reached out through technology to build connections that would have otherwise been cut by this pandemic. In a time when we are all so isolated, we got to know we weren’t alone.
I know 2021 will be different. But the countdown into a new year isn’t a magical panacea for America’s troubles. We still have lots of work to do. We must do that work together, even if we are still separated by a screen, and the One America Movement will be here for it. We’ll be rolling out new training events and building new relationships. And one day – when the moment is right – we will be back together again in person to serve our communities and make them even stronger than before.
As I write this letter, my three-year-old is marching down the hall shouting “On Dasher! On Dancer! On Prancer! On Vixen! Dash Away! Dash Away! Dash Away, All!” His joy reminds me that in this house, Christmas is coming whether we are isolated or not. His joy isn’t waiting for a vaccine. It isn’t even waiting for hot cocoa or Santa Claus.
Connection, relationship, and love will indeed find a way. As we close out the year and you plan your end of year giving, I’d like to invite you to join us in the fight against toxic polarization, and in creating a stronger, more united country. Every little bit helps, and your contribution is needed to help us reach congregations and communities across the nation so they, like my three-year-old son, can find the joy and vision they need to engage in this important work of healing our divisions.
Dash Away, All!