by Bryan Andrew
I am a resident of Hazleton, PA. I was born and raised here, moved away for college and graduated from Penn State University. I then moved to Philadelphia, where I lived and worked for about 15 years, working in different capacities to serve men and women living with HIV/AIDS in North Philly. I moved back to the Hazleton area about 8 years ago and live here with my 4 children, in the same neighborhood where my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents live, or lived. I can trace my roots here back generations.
I have a very large, mostly Irish and Italian extended family; some stayed in the area, some did not. I have many good memories of growing up here, and of the local, ethnic and familial customs, traditions, attitudes and experiences that we shared. Small town values, everyone knew everyone, watched out for each other’s kids, working class, blue-collar, predominately Roman Catholic, descendants of European immigrants just doing the best they could. I have especially fond memories of Easter, and other holidays, with family and friends. I love the Hazleton I grew up in, always have and always will.
When I was living in Philly, I would hear about how the demographics of Hazleton were changing. A lot of children and grandchildren from the families that had settled and populated Hazleton for generations were leaving to pursue opportunity elsewhere, much like I did. The void was starting to fill mainly with individuals and families from New York, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
When we eventually moved back to Hazleton, we encountered the changes first-hand. We met many new neighbors and made new friends of a different ethnic background than our own, but who had similar dreams and desires to what my ancestors had. As the years have passed, and even as some problems persist, I see the beginnings of a new generation of Hazletonians, those who call this place home and take pride in their hometown. It is still such a young, fragile, delicate dream… I am dreaming it with them. I am them, they are me. I find that I still love little ol’ Hazleton, with all its flaws. I am also hoping against hope. For the town’s sake, for the people’s sake, for my children’s sake.
The reason I am writing this post: We are experiencing a high number of COVID-19-positive cases here, and mostly in the Hispanic community, as is well known by now. Many people could die locally. Individuals who work in those local factories who are still expected to work are bringing home the virus and infecting their families. Regardless of how it’s being transmitted, the fact is real people are getting sick and dying.
I came across this comment today on social media: “Maybe this virus is the cleansing we’ve been waiting for in this town.”
Now, I am all too familiar with racism and what ignorance and fear sound like, and they are everywhere at all times, evils that exist among us. I can usually contain my anger or grief for such attitudes and turn that into something positive. But this struck me very hard and affected me deeply. I became emotional, deeply saddened. Why such hatred?
Hatred is a deep infection in the soul, a virus of the heart. Once it penetrates, it infects your mind, your thoughts, your speech, your facial expressions, your relationships even with those you love. The person who harbors it does not even realize they are sick, they can justify the symptoms and can evade the treatment. It can be contagious, and children can become infected easily if overexposed.
There is, however, some good news.
Love is similarly infectious. When I love myself, I can love my children better. When they are loved, they can love themselves, their classmates, their grandparents. When you love your neighbor, he can love more easily. When infected with love, you are unable to see certain things anymore… It infects the eyes and causes changes in your vision. It disables the mouth from forming to make vile speech. It even cramps your little thumbs to prevent you from texting that hateful comment on Facebook through your phone.
It can even cause such odd behavior like loving a stranger, or even your enemy. Yes, loving your enemy. You see, just as some have contracted COVID-19 out of carelessness, you can become careless and contract such a strain of hatred that no ventilator, no isolation, no intubation can relieve the symptoms. You can’t prevent the sickness you will feel, the personal pain and death inside, the danger you pass on to your loved ones.
Please, stay inside away from others. Wear a mask of a smile, so you don’t infect someone else. Only engage in essential and productive communication for the sake others. Please, stop spreading that wicked virus. Tell your friends the same. I love you and want you to live and be healthy. We can get through this pandemic together. Let’s love one another.
Bryan Andrew is a single father of 4 living in Hazleton, PA. He has worked in various areas of social services, IT support, warehouse work and landscaping to provide for his family. He is a graduate of Penn State University, with a BS in Psychology. A registered Independent voter, he is not a political writer or nor activist, but a concerned parent, citizen and human being.