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Magnifying What Really Matters by Blythe Leonard

My mom’s favorite hymn says, “I once was lost, but now I’m found…” I find this a perfect parallel between what we all have been enduring this year. We have seemingly lost the “privilege” of so many things: job security, social interactions, consistent routines, medical attention without boundaries, attendance at weddings and funerals, being with our loved ones when they need us most, and the growing apprehension (or fear) of the inability to be ourselves. But what we have gained is the ability to spend more time at home with our family, grow spiritually and clearly put our ambitions and our dreams in front of us.

Most of 2020, we have been trying to find our path and realize what is most important to us.We have found ourselves pondering the world’s problems, social injustices, raging political battles and healthcare concerns. Many have learned new hobbies and the latest trend…learning how to bake bread. Something that has been done for centuries before us took a pandemic for an entire new generation to learn the skill. We have been “filled” (or inundated) with facts and fiction about the Coronavirus Pandemic since its onset. And with this in mind, I have a strong feeling that it is probably the very last thing you care to read about. However, understanding how the pandemic has impacted us as a community and as a small town is vital to healing for all of us. It is how we take these past months and learn from them that is vital.

Since March, I’ve lapsed into a heightened state where I have really magnified what matters in life and how I should live. It started in March when I began living in a world that seemed to have turned upside down and backwards. Clients were fearful, our tanneries closed their doors and disconnected their phone lines, friends who stopped by on a weekly basis ceased to exist and an eerie hush fell on the workshop. Stores we frequented permanently closed, restaurants we typically ordered from on a weekly basis no longer took orders and our in person appointments came to a screeching halt. Our otherwise ringing phone went silent while the television screamed horror and sadness. It was then, that I made the decision to do something that could have a positive impact on other small businesses.

As you may know, our creation of our Uplift Local Gift Box Program seemingly fit the bill. Each box included a $10.00 gift card to any small business in the country along with $50.00 worth of our products and a personalized note, just to make someone smile. At a time when everyone felt secluded at their home, it gave them an opportunity to bless someone else’s day which turned out to truly be a blessing for so many. Adults and children made thinking of you cards, which poured in by the hundreds; some were even left on our doorstep while others stuffed in our mailbox overnight. In the end, we supported thirty-seven different businesses in nine different states, shipping over four hundred Uplift Local boxes. The notes were heart-wrenching at best. “Love you tons,” “Although it is pretty scary knowing you are on the front line, we admire you for your commitment to serve others, we love you,” “Enjoy, I’ll be there eventually..,” “Thank you for taking care of the elderly.” These were just some of the notes. One daughter lost her job and didn’t know when the next time she would be able to see her mom who lived several states away. I could feel her pain and her sorrow through the phone.

For many, digital media has always been there and has always been a huge part of our lives. But, for others, it has been a frustrating means of communication and information—never knowing what is true and what is hearsay. The ability to order groceries on an app and have them delivered to our home was foreign. So many things began to change. How we interact with people, how we meet, how we shop, how we eat, and even how we vacation. We, as a nation, were thrust into this sense of uncertainty, never knowing what will come tomorrow.

During these ever-changing and uncertain times, I have come to realize how vitally important it is to support our neighbors and our fellow small businesses. It is so important to get to know the man or woman behind your handmade candle, bar of soap, or handmade dining room table; it means everything. When we support each other we uplift our town and elevate it to a thriving community. There was a time when our small-town downtown shops were filled with shoemakers, dress makers, yarn spinners, blacksmiths and woodworkers. Our communities thrived based on the needs of its residents; one knew exactly where to go when you needed a new pair of shoes or yarn for a winter scarf. Now, we have the lovely joy of superstores, where the more you look around, you realize that the products being offered are generic and mass-produced, with no backstory, no face, and essentially no emotional connectivity to the maker.

I’d like to think that I look at the world a little differently than most. Supporting artists, makers, youth, and my own community is the heartbeat of my existence and the code of ethics that I built my foundations upon so many years ago. I started my own jewelry business when I was ten years old and there is nothing like the satisfaction of someone enjoying something that you made. To this very day, I understand the hard work and joy of creating that came—before that day. I know that when I hand an artist cash, and receive something in return that they handmade, I am feeding that passion that keeps them happy. I understand the roads we have to walk in order to survive as artists in the modern day world. Creativity and design is a dynamic entity and without it, we as humans wouldn’t be able to function. Design correlates directly with our everyday motions and senses and ultimately feeds the passion and fuels the artist to continue to do what they love. Artists were born with a burning passion to create, almost as strong, if not stronger, as the need to eat and drink.

I honestly believe that each and every one of us was given a talent that maybe we should be feeding and allowing to flourish. Possibly, this virus has allowed some to realize their talents and their passion to create and to share it with the world. Most have realized that slowing down in life is a good thing and listening to our own hearts is what will get us through it all.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found…” This lyric epitomizes 2020. I have always tried every angle to support other artists and small businesses, but really couldn’t pinpoint how to do so the best way. But now, I have found it at 12 East Guilford Street in Thomasville, NC. This will be the place to learn the faces of our neighbors, their backstories, their passions and their drive to create their own American Dream; providing the ultimate opportunity to support each other and our community. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me to stop and listen to the needs of others and how we should be interacting together. After all, we are all in this together.