Cordova Chronicles: A New Year’s resolution

Words of comfort and empathy will save us in 2021

With a warm westerly blowing, it doesn’t take a T-shirt to see that life is good on a sunny day at the duck cabin. Photo and coffee cup courtesy of Gretchen Carpenter

Air travel from Cordova to points south invariably involves a stop at Seattle, with attendant hours spent in their constantly changing terminal.

One of my favorite places to pass time while waiting for connecting flights was a shop in the Main Concourse near C Gates that sold “Life is Good” T-shirts.

I have a couple of them that are now faded and stretched out of shape, my most treasured one being of a burnt-umber hue that features a pair of hiking boots along with the “Life is Good” logo. It has made many a trip to the top of the Ski Hill, in days that were good, indeed.

Alas, the store is no longer there.

Maybe that is a metaphor for 2020, which certainly won’t rank as one of the best in our lives.

There is sad irony in the fact that 20-20 is associated with perfect vision, for when we look back on the past year, it seems to be with anything but that.

The COVID-19 pandemic, plus an “infodemic” of news surrounding political conflict, has made it a year to forget.

Born just a month before D-Day, June 10, 1944, the unforgettable date of the Allied invasion of Europe to begin the end WWII, this has been the most confounding trip around the sun in my life.

Everyone in the country, including denizens of our isolated burg by the sea, has been impacted by disease and turmoil, revealing that even “The Friendly City” can be divided into camps that are anything but that.

Perhaps vaccines will be the external solution to COVID-19, but the nationwide divisiveness surrounding something as simple as a small piece of cloth reveals deeper issues that will likely continue to haunt us.

This time of “bubbles,” another term unique to this past year, has led to the re-discovery of favorite books, lined up on a back shelf, with pages folded over to mark what were deemed pearls of wisdom.

One of them is Abraham Vergese’s “Cutting for Stone,” a national bestseller about the lives of a surgeon and a son he abandoned at birth, who later rediscover each other through a chance encounter.

The now world-renowned surgeon is giving a brilliant analytical lecture to a packed hall of upcoming doctors at one of the country’s most prestigious hospitals and to close the presentation, asks a simple question: “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?”

An uneasy silence settles over the auditorium, and he repeats the question. Averted eyes, squirming seats and still no response.

Finally, his son, who is an unbeknownst member of the audience and has spent years treating underprivileged patients in Ethiopia, raises his hand and answers, from a quote in one of his father’s books: “Words of comfort.”

We are living in an emergency.

Yes, vaccines are on the way.

Hopefully, they will end this pandemic.

But we need a treatment administered by ear for all the other things that ail us.

It is words — of comfort and empathy, as well as of reason, respect and truth — that will save us all.

And make wearing a ragged “Life is Good” T-shirt on a sunny hike up the Ski Hill feel right again.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.