As many of you know, the pandemic partly inspired me to take a sabbatical to write a book. There were many events over the pandemic years that one could feel hopeless about—the toll of the disease, our country’s continuing legacy of racism, political polarization, school shootings, climate change, student and household debt, the sheer number of Americans who are a paycheck away from destitution. We are the richest country in the world, yet so many have been left behind.
In difficult times, I think of the words of Mr. Rogers, encouraging us to look for the heroes, to look for our fellow human beings who run towards the danger. These people give of themselves to make things better. True: such words have been applied indiscriminately to recent tragedies, with little actual progress on addressing the root causes of those tragedies. But those words are still valid. For me, I have found it inspiring to visit and talk with over 50 groups in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, and Texas, learning about their efforts to provide healthy food, safe shelter, primary healthcare, spiritual togetherness, space for creativity, and many other basic needs for members of their communities. Often these groups work with the barest of budgets, their overstretched volunteers “forcing heart and nerve and sinew” to serve all community members seeking help, even when they themselves need such help. I look forward to meeting with more groups in California as I wrap up interviews these next couple months.
So for this post, I would just like to express my gratitude to all the people who took the time to talk with me and show me their work. It takes courage to reply to an email out of the blue from a stranger and help them. But you have strengthened my faith in humanity and reaffirmed that American communities can indeed be welcoming places and that we can watch out for each other. As I transcribe our many hours of interviews, I am encouraged by your resolve, resilience, gentleness, and creativity. I am honored to write about you.
And thank you to all my friends and family for encouraging me along the way, who read these posts, who have connected me with contacts across the country, who have subscribed to and commented on my newsletters—and who will have to suffer through early chapter drafts. Your support means so much to me, and I hope that the chapters I write will do justice to everyone who has pitched in on this project. I wish you all the best for the holidays and a happy start to 2023.