We were made for this, Beaver County
Note: I originally wrote this essay on March 19, 2020, the same day that Pennsylvania’s non-essential businesses were forced to close because of the growing threat of COVID-19. One year later, I thought it was appropriate to publish this piece here. What follows is both a look back and a reminder that we are still up to the monumental task of creating strong communities in the midst of chaos.
Good morning, Beaver County. If you know me, you know that I am generally not a morning person. I am more like a mid-afternoon person. Or a post-supper-mid-evening kind of person.
But, today, I am a morning person. I am awake, sitting in the stillness of my home. Waiting for my four kids to emerge from their mostly clueless and blissful slumber. I am trying, somehow, to wrap my head around the complexity of our moment in history. I am seeking to wrangle order out of chaos. And I am longing for those places where I can hang my hat and steady my footing.
Truth be told, there are not tons of those places in our world right now. Of course, I do not really need to tell you that. We all know and feel the uncertainty pulsing through the air: uncertainty about health, about employment, about the stability of our institutions and systems, about what the future might hold. Change, as Heraclitus once famously noted, is the only constant. Rarely has that been more obvious than in our current context.
As I sit here, in Aliquippa, in the stillness of my nearly 100-year-old home, I am disciplining myself to be mindful of the past instead of only fixating on the uncertain future. I am reminding myself to wonder about all the residents of this community who came before me. I am thinking about the families who traveled to this country from far-flung lands, who made a place for themselves here despite all odds. I am reflecting on the young men and women who went off to war and never returned, and the mothers and fathers who were left behind to mourn. I am thinking of stories of the Great Depression and the indelible mark such hardships impressed on an entire generation of our foremothers and forefathers. I am thinking of what it must have been like to live in communities whose entire economic world collapsed with the demise of the steel industry. I am reflecting on those who, even now, suffer tremendous poverty all around us — those for whom the lessons many of us are about to learn are neither new nor uncommon.
When I am successful in fixing my gaze on the past, it gives me tremendous hope for our future. The benefit of remembering history is that it reminds you that you are not alone in the present. It teaches you that those who came before can instruct you on how to move forward today.
When I think about our past, I am convinced of this:
We were made for this, Beaver County.
Beaver County’s history of generational struggle has created within us dispositions and skills that are uniquely applicable to our present moment in history. Although it is true that we have never been in this exact place, we have certainly lived through periods of immense decline. We have witnessed economic distress. We have felt the strain that systemic collapse places on our institutions and our people. And, through all of it, we have figured out how to manage such decline with elegance and grace. We have learned to honor one another, serve one another, and continue to celebrate what we have instead of lamenting what we have lost.
Please do not think that I am minimizing the severity or complexity of what is happening right now. I am not. We have a real mess on our hands, and no amount of remembering the past will ensure that we move flawlessly into our future.
But, despite all the challenges ahead, I remain confident that residents of Beaver County will weather this storm, too. I am convinced that we will continue to come together and rediscover what is common about our shared stories. I am certain that we will innovate and encourage others to do so, despite diminished resources. And I am sure that we will continue looking toward brighter days, creating in the present what we seek to become in our future.
During this season of tremendous change, we must, as a region, continue to dream, learn, and collaborate together about the future we wish to create. Learning from the past, laboring in the present, and leaning into the future — this is our only sure path forward. It is our calling and our privilege to bear the weight of this challenge.
So, when you are tired… or anxious… or lack confidence…
We were made for this, Beaver County.
Now, let’s do this together.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.