Americans are tired; we are weary to the bone. Since the 2016 election, it feels like we have been deluged with news, chaos and drama, beginning, it seems, each day with the latest grievances being aired on Twitter by President Donald Trump. Then, we retreat to our respective ideological corners and provide proof (for those looking to find it) that we are a divided nation.
We all feel like these are not the best of times.
Yet, this division — this feeling that things are bad and that we are bitterly divided — is a fallacy. All throughout this last year we bore witness to numerous events, deeds and people that are reminders of how much good and love are in our world.
Take, for instance, Twitter, which is quite often derided as a place of outrage and insults — a vast hellscape filled with individuals who proudly display a callous indifference to and loathing of those who dare to differ. It can often be the virtual town square where everybody is just yelling at one another in a constant state of unbridled rage.
But if you look deeper, past the noise and bluster, it is also populated with a tremendous amount of virtue. Each and every day, people who use it will come together around something good. It could be as simple as someone sympathizing with a user — a stranger — who is facing a bad time. Or, it could be as big as thousands of users coming together and supporting a person or cause in a time of need.
Last April, the world watched in horror as Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral burned and nearly collapsed. Were it not for the bravery of firefighters, the world would have completely lost the iconic 850-year-old structure. Immediately, there were millions who pledged to rebuild the cathedral.
At the same time, another community was facing a similar challenge and, to them, a daunting recovery. In late March and early April, three historically black churches in Louisiana were burned to the ground by an arsonist with hate in his heart. The fires had received scant national media attention and few, if any, people paused when they occurred. The community had organized a GoFundMe campaign but had only raised only a few thousand dollars.
In the wake of the Paris fire, Yashar Ali, a journalist who has become kind of an unofficial fairy godfather of Twitter, tweeted that Notre Dame’s recovery was not going to lack for donations, but these three black churches would without our help. He announced that he personally had donated $1,000 and urged his several hundred thousand followers to do the same at whatever amount they could spare.
At the time of his tweet, the community had raised just under $50,000. Within 90 minutes of Yashar’s tweet, over $100,000 was raised. Within four days, politicians, companies, celebrities and everyday people had come together to donate over $2.1 million to those three little churches.
And Yashar isn’t the only person on Twitter doing good and helping others. There are hundreds of thousands of people being unsung heroes and by their acts of kindness rebutting the belief that Twitter is a vast hellscape, tweeting about shelter cats and dogs, promoting fundraisers for other people's medical conditions and children's college funds, sharing inspirational quotes and memories in the hopes of keeping someone else going. You can find not only goodness and kindness on Twitter, but friends-in-waiting who care.
Offline, we also see communities coming together. In May, residents of Marietta, Georgia, came together to celebrate Floyd Martin, their local mailman. After 35 years of work, he was retiring and, after he finished his final shift, over 300 residents threw a block party in his honor. They even sought to make his dream of visiting Hawaii come true and, together with a GoFundMe campaign, as well as the generosity of Delta Airlines, Floyd Martin got to live his dream.
To the people of Marietta, Floyd Martin made them smile daily. He would give candy to children and earn a wag of a tail or purr of affection from local dogs and cats he gave treats to that he carried with him.
Maybe it's something about Georgia — but maybe it's not. Still, Rep, John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights icon, paid tribute to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who will retire at the end of the year due to complications from Parkinson’s and other health problems, on the floor of the House last month, right in the middle of the most intransigent political fight since 1998 (the last time we impeached a president). Lewis sang the ill senator’s praises, noting that he is a man of strong character who always sought to ensure that we live in a more perfect union.
To the casual observer, Lewis’ statements about Isakson could be readily dismissed as platitudes, as we are used to our severely partisan elected officials offering halfhearted praise. But then Isakson watched as Lewis, his friend, literally walk across the aisle as the senator rose and met him halfway before they embraced. It was remarkably human and served as an important reminder of our shared humanity.
But maybe it doesn't need to be a big symbolic moment that made this year worth it. We each have people and things in our lives that make us smile on a daily basis. For me, it’s my dog, Rowdy: A few months shy of 6-years-old, he is full of unending love and entertaining hijinks. Watching him play with his friends Blue, Jackson, Goldie, Lola, Evil Jackson, Louie, Cooper, Gummy Bear, Ernie and more remind me — as well as the owners of Rowdy’s aforementioned friends — that these great dogs enrich not only our lives, but our souls.
Of course, there are people who do the same for us each and every day — granted, they are most likely not as cute as our pups. The truth is, we do not lack for goodness, for beauty, for pleasure or for sources of solace, but rather have let the chaos, the drama and the ugliness of some of the last few years allow us to forget how to see it.
In that case, I recommend petting a dog.