Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
I will not miss 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have many things to still be thankful for, the pandemic has put major stresses on all aspects of community life. Thankfully the Highlands Cashiers Hospital has not seen a surge of COVID patients as we all had feared happening back in the spring.
I realize we were making decisions in an emergency situation with very uncertain variables. I and the board were concerned that the town would see a sudden spike in cases to the level that are now being seen in other communities. Looking back, I wish we could have had a “do over,” with information and time to respond. But, that is not the way life is.
Back in the spring some folks believed we didn’t react as quickly and as forcefully as the situation warranted. Other folks think I and the board over reacted. One person sent me a letter calling me a “Nazi Communist,” whatever that may imply. As an elected official I have come to realize that sweet spot where everyone is happy doesn’t exist. I have to carry that burden of displeasing some folks and balance that load with those who are pleased. The final measure takes place at the ballot box.
My concern throughout the year has been the toll the virus has had on community rituals that we all treasure. I think of the cancellation of many events, beginning in the spring with the Highlands Food and Wine Concert in the park. We also saw almost all our arts and cultural events cancelled, postponed or converted to virtual events. The Bascom’s exhibition schedule was curtailed, the Chamber Music Festival suffered a blow, the Playhouse schedule was decimated, as well as the schedule at the Performing Arts Center. I hated to see a great rite of spring, graduation of our high school seniors, delayed and scaled back. The concerts in the park were lost, the Friends of the Park Shrimp Boil was cancelled. While the art show in the park was modified, the Highlands Motoring Festival had to be converted to more of a motoring rally rather than a car show. I hated to see a Fourth of July without fireworks, and the loss of the Twilight 5K Race. The annual CLE program with face to face lectures was set back. The Highlands Food and Wine Festival that was scheduled for November was cancelled, along with the Main Street Halloween event, and the Christmas Parade. The town Christmas Lighting was modified to be more of a drive thru event. Our churches have also suffered greatly in not being able to have full, in-person services. I have missed not having town hall fully opened so people can drop off their utility bills and say hello to the staff. I have missed in-person town board meetings. These changes all have added up to big missed opportunities for community engagement. The sense of community in going to restaurants and meeting friends and neighbors was impacted. Sallie and I missed the option of meeting friends for dinner out. Takeout is nice, but not the same. The food is just better when surrounded by others. I can’t wait to see the masks go away from tables and conversations flourish.
As we go into the new year and recover from the pandemic, I am optimistic that so many of these ritual events will be restored to their original level, or even better. With the challenges that we have faced, new ways of doing things will be incorporated into the fabric of our community.
Happy New Year to all. I hope the Almighty will shower us with blessings.