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Girl from a Small Town

When I think of the events of the past few months, the events of this past week, I selfishly can’t help the John Mellencamp lyrics that come immediately to mind: “Well I was born in a small town. And I can breathe in a small town.”

Photo by Jade on Unsplash
Photo by Jade on Unsplash

I am beyond grateful to have spent these months in my own, small hometown way up in northern Minnesota. After quarantining myself and my cat for the first couple of weeks of COVID, I came up here to be with my family. I am blessed to be able to work remotely and isolate where the virus threat is relatively low. Everyone’s way of life was forever changed this year, but never have I felt more secure and safe in my small hometown.

This new world already seemed surreal. Everyone in masks at the grocery store; stores closed, jobs lost, travel, life – suspended. It seemed like a scene from a movie. Then the world saw the video of George Floyd and what we thought was already surreal… The amount of unbridled hatred and debilitating fear festering in our communities is shocking and heartbreaking. That something like this can happen not in a movie, but in real life, in 2020, in the United States, in my state of Minnesota, is simply unthinkable.

Now, there are more National Guard soldiers deployed in the Twin Cities than what would make up the entire population of my hometown. No matter how someone sees a situation, someone else sees it differently. Every time I turn on the news or look at social media, people are attacking each other. Righteous anger vs misguided anger, not enough enforcement vs too much enforcement, Democrat vs Republican, facts vs fake news, law-abiding vs anarchy, informed vs ignorant. Protesting peacefully with genuine respect, empathy and good intentions vs malicious and violent rioting purely to cause destruction and chaos.

Mr. Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers” has been circulating a lot lately. It began with the doctors and nurses trying to protect us from this unknown virus causing so much panic and loss. Now, it’s the honorable law enforcement officers and courageous firefighters who have dedicated their lives to helping their communities and their country. The ethical and honest journalists who are trying to document these stories and keep us informed. The government leaders who are logical, calm, confident, and compassionate trying to maintain dignity and do the right thing in a horrific situation. The community members helping to rebuild and repair.

Amid the unrest last weekend, my parents and I sat and watched SpaceX launch actual astronauts to space for the first time. The juxtaposition of the very worst of humanity, next to the very best of humanity – within a commercial break – was again, surreal. Later that day I heard a lot of car horns beeping outside. My immediate thought was that somehow the madness of the weekend had made its way up to my small town. I went outside and instead saw a caravan of vehicles parading down the street. Graduates with balloons and signs and streamers celebrating their accomplishment in a new way, in this new world.

I’m a middle class, white girl from a small Minnesota town. I don’t claim to know or understand the way so many people have been made to feel their whole lives. I don’t know how to make it better. I can’t believe what we witnessed in that video. I can’t believe the images I’ve seen in the days since. My beautiful state of Minnesota, along with so many others in this country now look like a warzone.

One of my current streaming binges is Madam Secretary and a quote from it recently stuck with me: “You do whatever small thing you can every day on the side of hope and justice.” I write a lot about kindness and understanding. I don’t know what else to do other than to share my silly thoughts and listen to others. We need to listen to each other, learn from each other, adapt, and make the necessary changes. We need to celebrate the good; be the light and hope that someday, everyone can feel the safety and security of a small town.

“Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town. And people let me be just what I want to be.”

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