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Kindness eases pain of a different, difficult year

Ruth Frye celebrated her 100th birthday in September pandemic-style, remaining behind the window of her assisted living home as great-grandson Nathan, 4, visited outside. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It seemed this weird, wretched year would never end.

Time warped, our lives became stuck on endless rotation as we came to terms with changes we never asked for, never wanted, never imagined.

And yet, we made it through. A new year is within reach.

But let us look back first at the year that was, because I submit to you that we survived 2020 thanks in part to people like the ones featured in this column. They reminded us of our resiliency, our humanity, our “us.” They took to heart the affirmations of hope and good wishes scrawled in chalk in the early days of 2020 on the sidewalks at Altura Park and featured in a Jan. 10 column.

“Choose joy,” one said. “Be grateful.” “Smile more.”

And they brilliantly answered this one: “How will you be kind this year?”

For Geoff Galen, featured in a Sept. 5 column, his answer was to collect trash around his West Side neighborhood and inspire others around the country to do the same.

For Sara Trice, in a May 30 column, her answer was to install a little library in front of her house off Constitution NE that neighbors also started donating to, not just with books but puzzles, games and snacks.

For 17-year-old Emelia Pino, featured June 20, it was to seek donations to create activity boxes, books and toys for children under COVID-19 lockdown on Zia Pueblo.

The call for kindness was also answered by Linda Imle and Angela Slingluff, featured Aug. 11, who organized a group in Cochiti Lake called Heaven with a ZIP Code Mask Makers to make hundreds of masks for their community and beyond.

And it was answered by Christina Salas and Laura Kief Shaffer, who used 3D technology to create masks and other COVID-19 supplies, as featured May 12.

For many of you, kindness came through “rock fairies” sprinkling brightly painted stones across neighborhoods (Aug. 3) or sending hundreds of get-well cards to COVID-19 patients at the University of New Mexico Hospital (May 1).

This year brought us unexpected heroes like hikers Jason Bousliman, Cynthia Klaila, Velita and Cody Turner (June 5), who rescued a big dog in distress named Maya, Bousliman hoisting the hefty pooch on his shoulders to carry her down a rugged trail in the Sandias.

Chuck Kent, newspaper carrier and single dad of six (which itself is heroic), was on his early-morning rounds July 15 delivering the Journal when he saw a raging fire at the Los Lunas home of Lorie and Mark Jarner, called 911 and woke up the family to the imminent danger (Aug. 13).

Baby Superman, also known as Antonio Vasquez Jr. and featured in three columns this year, showed us how even the tiniest heroes keep smiling through adversity. Antonio, 3, was born with severe heart defects and has undergone four open heart surgeries. He’s still smiling.

Also heroic: You who donated to help Baby Superman’s family stay afloat after his dad was laid off as a restaurant general manager because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Some people found lost loved ones this year. Sisters Tracy Kjelland and Erin Linn (Nov. 25) reunited after last seeing each other when Linn was adopted as a 9-month-old in 1976. Middle school sweethearts Francisca Contreras and Jubal Bobb found each other again decades later, marrying June 17, despite her living in California and him in Colorado and during COVID-19 restrictions that made travel and long-distance relationships even harder to navigate (Sept. 11).

“Love in the time of COVID,” Contreras called it.

Some people lost loved ones this year. Shelley Plath urged others to take COVID-19 seriously after the virus took the lives of her father-in-law, John Lawrence Plath, in April and her husband, Johnny Walker Plath, in May and infected six more relatives, including her.

“If you could just step into my shoes, maybe you could feel what we have lost,” she said in a May 22 column.

Some of you found new ways to celebrate in spite of COVID-19. The family of Ruth Frye celebrated her 100th birthday Sept. 2 through the windows of her assisted-living home.

Others threw drive-by parades, including one for Charlotte Bitner’s seventh birthday (March 29), another for Alice Townsend’s homecoming after a lengthy hospital stay (May 20) and one for the high school graduation of Philip Henshaw (May 20).

The kind folks and furry friends of High Desert Therapy Dogs found a way to keep visiting residents in assisted living facilities by taking their dogs around the buildings and stopping by the windows (Aug. 14).

Patricia Cream and Leah Mitchell found a way to occupy themselves during the COVID-19 shutdown by creating a 12- by 4-foot mosaic out of old cups and plates (Sept. 15).

These are just a few of the people I found this year – or who found me. Most of our conversations had to be done through phone calls, Zoom meetings and emails as I sat at my kitchen table far from them and the newsroom and the world as I knew it before COVID-19.

I thank them all for their patience and kindness, and I thank all of you for sticking with me through this different and difficult year.

I haven’t been to Altura Park lately – I haven’t been almost anywhere this year – but I’d like to think those chalked affirmations of hope and good wishes will return in the new year, especially this one: “How will you be kind this year?”

Let’s find out.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.

 

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