Residents Reflect: The Best and the Worst of It
The Here & Now is ringing in the new year with reflections from residents. We would like to thank Robert Craig Baum, whose Wisdom 1096 project inspired this insert.
By Maxine Gross
When I was invited by the Here & Now to reflect on the pandemic, I immediately thought of a famous line: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” In March 2020, I was a healthy, active retiree; I traveled on a whim and devoted my time to community work. Then life came to a screeching halt.
Being a person who can’t sit still, I was determined to do all I could to use the time as productively as I could, and I wanted to jump right back in when life returned to normal. Home life took on a pattern of morning exercise, networking and conferring on Zoom, doing research, writing, delivering presentations — even attending church online on Sundays. The truth is, I was busier than before. Everyone knows you can fit in more virtual activities than physical ones. No travel time required.
Isolated in our homes, we watched our nation and the world begin to glimpse the injustices that have always been a part of this nation’s story and finally recognize the dignity of African Americans. These two critical themes were embraced by our local leaders when, in June 2020, they passed Resolution 20-R016 in support of Black lives. Like so many others, our city leaders realized that they had failed to connect the concepts and practices of racial injustice to their own lives and institutions. The story of Lakeland (that story we had been telling for nearly two decades) clearly showed that the city had the responsibility to right its own wrongs and play a role in the achievement of racial justice. It was truly the best of times when our mayor and city council passed this resolution to “…apologize for our City’s past history of oppression” and”… aggressively seek opportunities for restorative justice.” I thought I was, indeed, seeing the best of times. That soon changed.
What should have been a minor medical episode for me turned into major surgery and a permanent lifestyle change. While the city explored the meanings of racial justice through a series of forums, I recovered. Just as the restorative justice steering committee started work, creating an opportunity to build a critical step towards racial justice on at least a local scale, the cosmos had a bigger challenge in store for me, but something I was completely unprepared for: the illness of a dear one.
It hit hard and fast and ugly. Life grew very narrow, with all my time and energy going toward her care and only a small window for other things. In the months that followed, my dear one’s life drew smaller, and she lived more and more in a different place. The day came when she drew her last breath. A few weeks later, in the closing days of 2021, our city adopted a new resolution establishing a restorative justice commission. With the understanding of the fleeting and fragile nature of life, let us work to realize the promise of a better future. May 2022 simply be the best of times.
Maxine Gross is a chairperson at the Lakeland Community Heritage Project. She is also a boardmember with Streetcar Suburbs Publishing, which published the Here & Now.
Read more reflections here: