Commentary: Welcome, 2021

By Edward P. Noga

Father Albert Bischoff was part of the staff at Xavier University in Cincinnati when I studied along the Ohio River back in the 1970s.

He lived (and still does) in one of the student residence halls and had a trademark smile and greeting as he called or referred to everyone as “Saint.”

He once said that he used the greeting because he was not very good at remembering names. But he also regularly commented that the “Saint” epithet was his way of reminding students that they were called to be something more than they realized. His trademark greeting was (and is) a wonderful welcoming greeting, especially to new students.

Having celebrated his 90th birthday a few years back, Father B is still part of Xavier campus life and still welcomes everyone with the greeting that causes all to pause.

Speaking of welcome, one of the banks in our Valley ends its commercials with one word: “welcome.”

Interestingly enough, when the press covers stories on various topics in the communities of the Mahoning  Valley, the people interviewed often describe where they live as a welcoming community.

Here, we have turned the page on another year. Dare I say that most of us are more than happy to bid farewell to 2020?

From A to Z, we can easily fill a massive tome of stories about the very harsh year that we have lived through. In many ways, we are glad to say goodbye to last year.

Welcome, 2021!

We have heard family and friends say, “2021 has to be better than what we just lived through.”

Realistically, we know and are experiencing the fact that some of the grim realities of 2020 will be with us for a while.

May I suggest, as we hang a new calendar or adjust our various technology devices for the new year, that the true meaning of “welcome“ often came through the back door of 2020?

Think about it. We had many experiences where the very best of humanity was a welcome sight!

True, the long car lines for food giveaways seemed never-ending. But the trailers filled with food brought smiles and relief to those in need.

True, the medical profession has been pushed almost beyond its limits. But its members’ appearance at work every day was a welcome sight for those in need.

True, the live music scene has taken a beating with few events and scarcely anyone in the audiences. But we welcomed the soothing concerts online. After all, music is healing. Didn’t we get goosebumps when a newscast ended with folks standing on their apartment balconies to sing their hearts out to an appreciative audience in the streets below?

And true, we yearn for the handshakes and hugs that give warmth to our daily lives. But we often have been lifted up by surprising and creative virtual ways of saying “I miss you and care about you!”

We welcome the new year because we have learned to cope and define a new normal for the time being.

We welcome the vaccines now being delivered across our nation and around the world that will eventually help us put the virus down.

We welcome the outpouring of carryout, curbside and touchless services that have kept businesses open, especially the local mom-and-pops that are part of the personality of our Valley.

Yes, the pandemic has heightened many personal, family, social, national and racial challenges. But we have also welcomed dedicated and committed citizens who are determined to work for solutions.

We welcome community leaders, some elected but many more self-taught by their community involvement, who want the chance to rebuild our nation in every way.

Yes, we can genuinely welcome the new year, knowing what we have learned and that we will keep learning hard lessons as we welcome.

At the base of the Statue of Liberty is a welcome that probably has been memorized by most students at one time or another:

Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

For sure, those words in New York harbor have welcomed people from every nation and culture for decades and decades.

Welcome, 2021.

We’re ready for another opportunity. We’re ready for better days and we’re willing to work for them. We’re willing to sacrifice so that we can continue to be a welcoming people. 

On the other corner of our state, on the campus of Xavier University, in the heart of Cincinnati, is a smiling Jesuit priest, over 90 years old, who knows what it means to be welcoming and encouraging. I don’t know what Father B did to welcome the new year but welcome it he did.

May we do our very best to welcome 2021!