Swenson: Getting real in unreal times
Given this final opportunity to write to you in an election season, I am not writing a campaign message. I'm sure you won't mind.
I would like to take this valuable space to say that, like all of us during these seemingly unreal times, I'm searching for the real heart of the matter.
I think it is loss.
And I'm not good at loss because I know it means I have to go through all those pesky stages to get to acceptance — denial, anger, bargaining and depression.
We all have been alternating through most of those stages during the pandemic, the unrest, the fires, our kids not in school and this divisive election season. And if you're like me, you're looking for an end to it and a way out: less cases, a vaccine, a cure, our kids back in school, less yelling, our candidate or our party winning. It's probably time we should stop spinning through bargaining and denial. And we could all afford to be less angry.
We should just name it: Living like this, while not as difficult as other hard times — like a war or depression — is hard, sad, lonely, unnatural, frustrating, depressing and maddening. Living isolated, living in fear of a catching a virus, living in fear of each other and living so divided physically, as well as politically more than ever, is just plain wrong. It doesn't feel right. It's not right.
If that is the heart of the matter then, what are we to do? Acceptance is a hard destination to arrive at, especially with low visibility.
We can start by accepting the things we can't completely or personally control — like a virus, or regulations put in place to protect us (whether or not we agree with them) or even devastating fires — and focus on what we can control: how we see and treat each other, no matter our politics or our opinions.
That is my greatest concern, but also my greatest hope. Not just for the rest of this election season, but for after the election, into 2021 and beyond.
This year, I have been heartened by the way people in Woodburn have expressed their feelings of indignation for the causes they deeply believe in, while preserving the dignity of others. For the way we have disagreed with each other without being disagreeable. For the way we have spoken out for what we believe is right, without being too righteous.
In all my years in Woodburn, more so as your mayor and even more during the pandemic, I've witnessed people work together over and over for the good of our city regardless of their particular views, even when strongly held.
I've seen people from all across our rich religious, language, political and cultural traditions volunteering together at the food bank, community dinners, our testing events, churches, Love INC, Meals on Wheels, with PCUN helping migrant farmworkers, through our Chamber of Commerce and at our Red Cross Shelter. All to help each other. It has given me an even greater confidence in Woodburn.
This is where I arrived at acceptance — and what we can do: Accept that this is somewhat like wartime, a difficult stage in our history without a known end date. And like wartime, it's of paramount importance that we continue to strengthen the bonds of our community with our better angels instead of letting them fray, and take this opportunity to focus more on what brings us together than what separates us.
So during this next month and the months that follow, with unpredictable events and political flames all around us, and even inside us, let's continue to be for what we each believe in — while always being first for each other, and first for Woodburn. I'm confident that we can.
Eric Swenson is the mayor of Woodburn and a member of the Woodburn School District board of directors.
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