It was a steamy late August night and I was in a hurry to get back to my car so I could file a story, but the heat from the debate I’d just witnessed was still boiling over as I neared the parking lot.
To my right was John Wilcox, a longtime Democratic Party loyalist and tactician. Wilcox helped with Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign and was called on stage and recognized in 2008 by a then candidate Barack Obama on the same Indiana University Southeast campus where we found ourselves on that evening in 2009.
U.S. Rep. Baron Hill had just held a town hall. Obama’s health care reform package was under consideration. Hill vowed to support it (a vote that likely cost him re-election the following year). Many folks in the crowd didn’t agree, and they made their feelings known with boos and jeers each time the Congressman tried to explain his reasoning.
John and I were each smoking a cigarette as we scampered down the sidewalk. Near the parking lot, a group of protesters held signs and shouted insults, comparing universal health care to socialism.
John tossed his cigarette and responded quite directly to the crowd. To paraphrase John, not everyone was so lucky to have access to basic medical treatment, and the legislation could save lives.
John died in January at the age of 81. I wrote his feature obituary story for the newspaper, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that night.
Pat McLaughlin started on the New Albany City Council the same year that I began covering the city for the newspaper. Whether or not you agreed with Pat’s politics, he took time to research issues and he definitely loved New Albany. He was also a kind man, and had a great sense of humor.
Anyone who has ever spent much time in a public meeting knows there’s the likelihood that someone will say something really outlandish. When those occasions arose in New Albany, Pat would often shoot me a blank stare that communicated a mix of disbelief and sarcasm.
In June I was told through a mutual friend that Pat’s health had taken a turn for the worse and I needed to get by the hospital to see him. I remember thinking I had plenty of time. I didn’t. Pat died the next day.
There are misnomers and mistakes often made between journalists and public officials. Some believe they should be pals with the people they cover. That’s a mistake. Some believe journalists and officials should hate each other. That’s a misnomer.
We should respect each other and realize we both have a job to do, and Pat always got that. When I wrote about his death, I kept thinking about those deadpan stares.
Tom Pickett never met a stranger. He was a Floyd County Councilman, but that was just a part-time gig. Tom was a talker and a walker, and he did both with great frequency.
He worked for a while at the downtown New Albany YMCA, and I would see him almost every weekday at lunch. He would come down to the court and watch us play basketball, tell us a joke and flash his wide grin.
Tom talked politics rarely but made you smile regularly. The only thing he bragged on more than his walking routine was the love of his life, his wife, Rosaland.
Tom did a terrible Elvis impression, but it made you laugh. He died in June. When the news arrived all I could see was Tom pushing a mop around the gym floor, humming a song and grinning.
Loss. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking about the last 16 months. The pandemic has taken too many people from us. Others have died from different reasons, but regardless of how or why, the void is still left.
But the losses haven’t just been physical.
In too many ways, we’ve also lost our sense of direction. We’ve lost our compassion. We’ve lost our ability to empathize with one another.
But losses are temporary. Nothing is really ever gone. Memories survive and their importance grows stronger as we fall back on them to resurrect what we’ve lost.
I won’t speak with my father again in this life, but I hear his voice every day. My grandmothers are no longer here, but I remember the love they showed me. Some of best friends have died, but the good times we had haven’t perished.
Loss is a universal experience. In a season of loss, it’s critical that we remember.
In this season, let’s remember what humanity should be. We’ve argued over masks, vaccinations and conspiracies to no avail. We’ve protested in the streets, we’ve screamed in front of our children at school board meetings and we’ve spent hours blasting each other in online arguments.
And what has it accomplished?
Let’s remember that no one wants this pandemic to continue. Let’s remember that our plight is tied to each other. Let’s not forget that mistakes happen, that we are humans and we are far from perfect.
Let’s stop forgetting who we are, and start remembering who we should be.