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Now that it’s 2017, I can’t bear the thought of continuing to fixate on politics and its atmosphere of pomposity and negativity that paints a picture of this country far different from what I encounter in my everyday life. It’s part of my job to cover this stuff, but our lives are about so much more than politics.

During the holiday season I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with a lot of young adults — my kids and their friends are all ages 18 to 24, and nephews and nieces were around who are as old as 28. And here’s what I heard from them: they aren’t buying into the vision of a country that is crumbling. Instead, I would argue that it’s the fresh optimism of the young — their belief that they can fix problems others have ignored or caused — that helps fuel this country’s ongoing prosperity.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve awoken on New Year’s Day energized to be more, do more, see more. This year was very different. I woke up wanting to do less, to simplify everything. I woke up feeling steadfast, reflective. 

My mom’s been by my side for 36 holiday seasons, so the first one without her felt strange and melancholy. Thinking back on the last couple of months, there are some bright spots like snuggling on the couch watching movies under the glow of the Christmas tree, making gingerbread houses with the whole family, and visiting my sister and niece in D.C. for a mommy and kid weekend. 

I turned 18 three weeks too late to vote for Ronald Wilson Reagan for president of the United States, but if I had been eligible to vote, I would have voted for him. The world seemed too complicated and too dark to me. Every night on the evening news, there were reports of more violence in the Middle East, rising interest rates, out of control inflation, an economy in the toilet. President Carter — who nobody doubted was a good man with the best of intentions — just didn’t seem to be the kind of man to lead the country out of what he himself called a “crisis of the spirit.” He coined that phrase in what would later be remembered as the infamous “malaise speech.”

“The smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.”  

— “What America Can Learn About Smart Schools in Other Countries,” The New York Times

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 – Margaret Mead 

It’s my favorite quote. I remind myself of it every time I’m feeling helpless or hopeless about the state of the world in which we live.

Some things never change, and the reality of collateral damage from news stories is one of them. Plus the fact that I really just don’t like it when it happens.

Our cover story last week (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/18931) examined concerns about how the presence of alcohol in rural Haywood County might change small communities like Fines Creek, Bethel or Jonathan Valley.

By Greg Christopher • Guest Columnist

This time of year, as many people are counting their blessings, they also realize they want to publicly share their good fortune to others by ways of different acts of kindness — to family, friends and even complete strangers. Sometimes, it can be easy to take our good fortune for granted as our day-in and day-out routines take over our minds, so I want to use this Christmas and holiday season as an opportunity for a professional yet humble and thankful evaluation.

I don’t know about you, but I need a quiet place about now. I need to turn off the news and close my laptop and just take a break from all of the noise. I need to put my fury away, shut down all the lights except for those on the Christmas tree, and have Doris Day sing “Silver Bells” to me alone, slumping down in my easy chair with a hot mug of chamomile tea here as the whole miserable year collapses into darkness.

After three months of internal darkness and coping with grief, this past weekend offered some soothing reprieve. Over the years, I’ve realized I’m a person who desires to see the world but adores her small town. For me, a place like Waynesville is a perfect home base, a haven to recharge.

Fidel Castro’s death should remind us that we are oftentimes more powerless and rudderless than our country’s leaders like to admit when it comes to foreign policy.

And that’s a timely lesson as a president who promised change prepares to leave his office to a president-elect who also promises change. Castro is a nagging symbol of how difficult it is even for a country as big and powerful as the U.S. to steer the world in the way we think it should go. Oftentimes, despite our best intentions or our horrible mistakes, we just can’t have it our way.

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