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Grechen Wingerter,

President of the Board of Trustees

Fall is here. Well, it’s been here for about a month now, but over the past couple weeks it has finally begun to feel like fall is really here. The leaves are turning color, the temperatures are cooler, and that familiar scent of autumn is in the air….

Fall has always been my favorite season. Growing up in the Midwest, I loved seeing the leaves change, wearing comfy sweaters and jeans, drinking apple cider and going on hayrides, anticipating Halloween and Trick or Treating, and the cool, crisp weather. In that regard, not much has changed for me. I still love all of those things about Fall -- especially the cool weather it brings to East Tennessee. But, the adult in me also recognizes on a deeper level that with fall comes change. Good change. Hard change. Necessary change.

For many, Fall signifies an end to things. The end of summer. Trees lose their leaves. Plants go dormant. Animals prepare for hibernation. The days get shorter. And while all those things are true, I tend to see Fall as a new beginning instead of an ending. A time to reflect, refresh, and regenerate. It’s a time to see the beauty around us as nature does its thing. Something that has been quite challenging to do in 2020. But lately, I’ve been feeling that is exactly what we need to do more of -- see the beauty in the world around us. 

One of the ways I’ve been trying to see more beauty in the world is by walking. When the pandemic first hit and it was clear we weren’t going anywhere for a while, many of us had to figure out new routines. Ironically, I had just started a couple of new routines in January. In a greater effort to focus on my physical and mental health I had made two big changes to my lifestyle: 1) I had switched to a vegetarian diet; and 2) I had joined the Rec Center at Pellissippi and started working out again. I was just starting to get into a regular habit with working out when everything shut down. Time to re-focus again. Suddenly we were all forced indoors with no idea for how long. And yet, we were being encouraged to get out in the fresh air and get exercise -- as long as we didn’t gather with too many people at once, of course. And so, a friend and I began walking. Since mid-March, if I did the calculations right (math is NOT my thing) and my FitBit is accurate, I have walked almost 700 miles!!! That does include all my daily walking from place to place throughout the day, but still, that’s a lot of walking!!!

Throughout these walks I have observed nature and the world changing around me. I watched things grow from little sprouts to buds to flowers. I’ve watched animals come out of hibernation and take care of their young. I’ve explored different paths in Knoxville as I’ve worked towards my goal of visiting all the Greenways. And I’ve watched people change. Including myself. And yet, I think at our core we are all still the same. We have the same hopes, fears, aspirations. It just seems like everything‘s been on hold. It’s possible we’ve discovered that maybe — just maybe — some of the things we thought were most important have been some of the things that have been holding us back from being who we are, who we are meant to be. That kind of discovery can be hard to face, hard to accept. But those kinds of changes are also some of the ones we need to make the most. Perhaps this year we can look at Fall not as an ending, but as a beginning — as a chance to start over, to make those changes we’ve been wanting — and needing — to make in our own evolution, in our growth as humans,  in our own discoveries of the world around us.

One additional change I have made it’s been more recent. By mid-September I was starting to feel pretty bogged down by the world around me. I was frustrated and often enraged by the negativity of politics and the polarization of our country. I wanted — and needed to focus more on the positive things in the world and in my life. It had been becoming increasingly clear that social media had a lot to do with his negativity. For all its beauty and the way it has connected us like never before, social media and all of its platforms is not without its downside. We’re able to show people what we want them to see. We see what we want to see. And politics and polarization has dominated that world of social media — and in some ways sapped the joy out of those connections as we’ve had to choose friends based on politics and religion. And maybe that’s not necessarily all a bad thing, but when that’s all you see every day, it takes a toll one’s psyche. I’ve been on some form of social media since 2004, maybe even earlier. I’ve been on Facebook in particular since 2006. 14+ years of social media connections. So I’d been thinking for a while that it was time to take a break. But like all addictions, sometimes things are hard to let go. And yet, with all the increasing responsibilities in my daily life, it was clear that I needed to make another change in order to take care of my physical and mental health. And so Facebook got the axe — mostly. For some of my friends and family it’s the only way that I am able to stay in touch with them, and I am connected to it through my job, so I’m not able to eliminate it completely, but what I have done is significantly reduce the time I spend there. I deleted the app from my phone. I deleted the tab on my MacBook. I now only check in once, maybe twice a week. It’s been about a month and, not gonna lie, the first few days were hard. If you don’t believe muscle memory is a thing, delete an app from your phone or move the apps around in your phone. Whenever I had a moment of downtime my thumb was itching to click on that Facebook icon and check in and see what was going on in the world — or at least my little corner of it. But after a few days it got easier. I stopped thinking about what was happening on Facebook and having to update “the people” about my whereabouts and my well-being and all the things that we think we need to share with or become compelled to share with one another. Yeah, I miss some things, but I also find I’m talking to people more — even in this world of social isolation. Reading more. Being present more. All good changes. So, I’d say going off Facebook has been one of the best changes that I’ve made this year.

I continue walking.  I’m not getting as many miles in each week, but I’m still out there seeing the beauty in the world around me. Seeing the leaves change, enjoying the cooler weather, and smelling that familiar smell of Autumn.  

Change is gonna come. The question remains — can we go with it?

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