Edith Guffey: March Madness, then and now (Column)

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It’s stating the obvious to say that Lawrence is a basketball town. So the pandemic became real when two years ago, the Big 12 Tournament shut down. It wasn’t postponed; it was done, over and out. 

In fact, after it was all said and done, there was no NCAA basketball tournament in 2020, no March Madness. In reality, the madness was just beginning. 

In-person classes were halted for University of Kansas students; elementary, middle and high school students never returned to in-person classes from spring break; offices became empty, as well as grocery store shelves. I don’t need to go on and on in exhausting detail about how radically and suddenly our lives changed; we all lived it.

And now here we are, almost exactly two years later. It’s March Madness again, and the numbers indicate that as a city and county, we are at the best place we have been since the height of the pandemic. Masks off for many, and a feeling of hope again — at least about the pandemic. 

Even while celebration is in order, it will always be tinged with sorrow as we will never forget the lives that have been lost; loved ones, friends, some who died alone. Nothing will ever take away that pain, and yet even after death, life continues to move forward. That too is something we should all celebrate.

I’m not here to put a damper on how far we have come in the last two years. At the same time, we have short memories. I hope we take some time and reflect on what has happened over the last two years. The world didn’t stop with the pandemic, but early on, things did slow down, a lot! Remember? 

Maybe because things slowed down so much early in the pandemic, some things that were already so obvious to many became more visible to others. Perhaps one of the most visible things was that we live in a radically and increasingly inequitable world; and yes, that includes us, here in Lawrence and Douglas County. The gap between the haves and have-nots is huge and growing.

Remember who was able to comfortably shelter in place and who wasn’t? Remember the impact of the pandemic on those deemed “essential workers” and the low-wage workers who day after day put themselves and their families at risk in grocery stores, as transit workers, janitorial staff and other roles that we often don’t even see but keep our city working? 

How many of us had any idea of the number of children who rely on the school food programs that were affected by the school closings? Without the quick action, planning by the school district and volunteers to fill that gap, those children would have gone hungry. And how much more do we know now about the continuing crisis of affordable housing as social distancing impacted the already stretched resources at the Lawrence Community Shelter? Again, I could go on and on about the cracks.

And racial justice — don’t get me started. Think about all that has changed since March 2020; George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, marches here in Lawrence. There has been a sea change in the city and county political landscape with candidates clearly naming their commitment to racial justice and equity as a priority. We remember Jan. 6 and give thanks for democracy as we watch with horror the scenes of war in Ukraine and what it means to really suffer the consequences of one man’s ego and lust for power.

So yes, let’s all celebrate and be grateful for life; for how far we have come since March 2020. But please, let’s not talk about returning to business as usual, or getting back to the way it was before the pandemic. 

As a community, we have seen too much, and hopefully learned some things both personally and collectively. The question should be knowing what we know now, how will we move forward and collectively build a better, more equitable city, county, state and world? 

Anything less is a kind of March Madness where no one wins. 

— Edith Guffey recently retired from a 30-year career with the United Church of Christ. After serving at the national offices located in Cleveland, Ohio, Edith and her husband Jerry returned to Lawrence and Edith served as the Conference Minister of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference until she retired at the end of 2021. You will find her at home in Lawrence trying to understand what it actually means to be retired and trying to figure out the complexities of the pandemic so she and Jerry can travel for fun instead of work. Read more of Edith’s work for the Times at this link.

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