The Key West Mystique

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But, you live in Key West | It’s OK to find happiness in the midst of tough times

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

07/07/2020

I’d be complaining, whining and otherwise explaining how challenging things are, while my mother listened patiently for her opening. She’d take a quick breath and remind me: “But,” she said, “you live in Key West.” She also said “bloom where you’re planted” while I rolled my eyes.

These days we need my mother in our ears.

You know without me telling you that these are pretty awful times; I’ve nothing new for the list. It’s going to be awful times for a long time and I’m not willing to be miserable for the next five months or five years for that matter. Instead, I’m going to listen to my mother: You’re in Key West; bloom with what you’ve got.

Let’s start here.

My glass will be half full. I like discovering folks doing the right things. As I’ve wandered around the island this week, I am encouraged by the increasing number of folks doing the Covid-19-3: Mask, distance, wash. Most are wearing masks or have them in hand. The groups are clearly families and most folks are doing their best to, well, do their best. Are there exceptions? Of course. But perhaps it’s time to pay attention to those who are doing it right and stop acting like (cliche ahead) Karens.

I won’t hate indiscriminately on our visitors. In our zeal to protect our island’s health, we turned “tourist” into a swear word. It was “the others” who slammed the bars, refused to wear a mask. We blamed “them” exclusively for the increase in Covid-19 cases in the Keys. We called them “tourons” and sent a pointed message that if you don’t have a local address on your driver’s license, you don’t belong here. We applied the pejoratives to every non-local, whether they were fall-down-bigoted day drinkers or a 20-year returning visitor who simply wanted to reconnect with her island home. We’re darn close on social media to full-blown “no visitors allowed, much less welcomed.” We’re about to re-brand ourselves as “Really. We are One Human Family. Just not YOUR family.”

I’m going to talk about living with the virus — and not go faint of heart when I know I sound like a denier and my friends won’t come play with me anymore. We must have that discussion; we must figure out how we can live in, with and around this novel coronavirus.

If you’re retired with Social Security and a pension or financially sound and don’t have to work for a living, then as long as the economy generates enough revenue to cover your government checks or send you a portfolio dividend, then, hey, you’re good to go until there’s a vaccine. Hunker down, enjoy the quiet times, be happy. You live in Key West.

That’s not, however, how most Key West residents live. I cannot absorb the anguish I hear from parents trying to balance their jobs with home schooling and the frightening prospects that schools will open or not open this fall or that they’ll lose their job this afternoon. The same goes for our businesses, beaches, parks and entertainment venues. We cannot blithely say “close it down” without providing a way to fund the ramifications of a shut down.

So, yeah, we must open in-person schools. We must sustain viable revenue streams. We don’t have to do stupid. Opening for the sake of opening with no support systems in place is folly as we have learned world-wide this past month.

How do we do right by our island? We must move our discussions away from “open or closed” with their hard line yes or no responses and, instead, devote every waking moment — and a huge chunk of public and private cash — to building the solutions that will keep our workers, law enforcement, teachers, students and their families and school staff healthy — and if and when they get sick, have the resources to care for them. We’re smart. We can figure out how to do it if we stop wasting time arguing over whether we should do it.

I get it. We’re scared and we’re looking for a scapegoat. And, it’s OK to find a path forward in the midst of tough times. We can, as Mom whispers every time I complain, “bloom where we are planted” in the middle of this virus catastrophe. Because we live in Key West.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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