The other night, I was wide awake in the wee hours of the morning. It’s a normal activity to me, actually – the time of the night when it’s so quiet that you can hear your clock ticking.

I thought about the last few years, and what a strange twist of time it has been. For me, it seems it started back to the 2016 election night. When I sat watching the TV, I worried about the results that were on the screen – what does this mean for me, my family, and most especially for Zachary, my son who lives with a disability.

Everything had been so volatile to this point. So many people were changing, and all of sudden it was OK to point out the shortcomings of others. All of sudden it was OK to use words or actions to describe and hurt others.

Then, all the events and issues that happened very quickly after that – the women’s march, the #MeToo movement, more school shootings and parents begging for gun reform so another family did not have to bury a child or a loved one and the devastating realization of climate change.

Constant pictures of chaos at the borders, Russia, the impeachment trial. All the cries of “fake news.” Then the world-changing moment of the pandemic, unemployment, the murder of George Floyd and the protests that have followed to recognize that Black Lives Matter. Believe it or not, that all has been in the last three years of our lives. It’s a lot, isn’t it?

Now, here we are, like it or not. How do we move forward? How do we make the world a better place to live? What can we do to try to make changes in the communities in which we live? We are at a place where, if change is what you seek, then you must find a way to help make the change. Visualize a roundabout, one with many roads, each one leading a different way. The one thing in common is they are all connected at the center, us, we, you and me.

So, what do we do? What kind of a country, state, community do you want to live in? Then, pick a road and do something to make it change, make it better, make a difference.

My husband and I, our daughter Kari Jo, and our family have been on a campaign of change for 29 years now. When our son Zachary was born with Down syndrome, we could have sat back, done nothing to change the perceptions about people with disabilities, that their lives don’t matter, or they are considered less than because of the way they look or act. Or, we could get off our butts, do the hard work and help others to understand that Zachary and others like him are perfect, beautiful human beings that have so much love to give and more. You will learn many life lessons from them, and if you do the hard work, it will change you.

So, what do you want? Do you want a better climate? If so, do something about it. Do you want to join the fight against racism? Educate yourself, talk about it. Let’s not be afraid of each other because of the color of our skin or what we look like. Do you want to push for equality for the LGBTQ community? Try understanding a person who is actually living that life and walk a mile in their shoes. Do you want criminal justice or police reform? New gun laws? Mental health support for the many, many people who are suffering? Believe me there are plenty of folks who could use your help. The list is endless.

It begins and ends with each and every one of us. Let’s have conversations without hurting each other. Let’s talk about our differences without hurtful words. Listening is a great place to start. What about you becoming the person who begins the first step toward changing something you hold dear to your heart? What if you are the person who begins those hard conversations? What about you being that person, even if it’s hard? It will be hard, especially in the environment that we live in today. But you can make a difference if you try.

The work ahead is going to be hard, but what in life is easy – beside eating a great slice of chocolate cake?

Jodie Johnson is co-owner of The Office Shop, and a long-time Aitkin resident.

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