Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Relationships, not wins key to civil society


As the weather begins, ever so slightly, to warm, it’sworth pausing for just a few moments to remember Jan. 4. and the Hughes family of Stafford—Craig and Stefanie.

In the morning after one of the biggest snowfalls in recent memory, the Hughes’ took in three families—a total of 24 people—whose cars had become snowbound on Brooke Road. One of those families was on its way back home to New York from North Carolina, and the car’s six occupants were not dressed for the conditions they faced when they got stuck.

This level of generosity is hardly new to the Hugheses. With six children of their own, and having served as therapeutic foster parents to another 26 children over 15 years, Craig and Stefanie have lived a life committed to helping others.

“We all are fellow travelers to the grave,” Hughes said. “No matter what your system of belief is, we are in this together, shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Adele Uphaus–Conner reported this story for us on Jan. 29. It’s far from the only example of civility and decency we’ve written about in recent weeks, however.

A Jan. 20 story by Taft Coghill about Amazon’s Black Employee Network describes the extraordinary lengths the group is going to to assist the needy in our region.

Their efforts include refurnishing the Thurman Brisben Center homeless shelter, and bringing slow cookers, air fryers, beds and dressers to people living at the Garden Inn on U.S. 1 in Spotsylvania.

“I’ve been with the hotel for two years,” says front desk clerk Debbie Tyree. “People come feed our residents and do other things. But nothing this extreme.”

A Jan. 18 story by Cathy Dyson tells of James and Matthew Covington, ages 10 and 9, who took on the challenge of mowing lawns, for free, for the elderly and those who need assistance. Matthew did this despite continuing to struggle with health issues in the wake of catching COVID.

“The people were really thankful,” Matthew said, “and that made me feel good because it’s actually making an impact.”

Another Dyson story on Feb. 3 chronicled how Pastor Mary

McGhee–Pasternak at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church responded to a post on the Mary Washington Healthcare Facebook page. It described how its health care workers are being stretched and stressed to the limits by COVID.

Pastor Mary called the owner of Castiglia’s restaurant on Williams Street, who promptly promised 2,000 meals. Other restaurants and organizations soon followed.

A nurse in Pastor Mary’s church said of the effort: “It’s things like that that say, ‘Hey, we see you. We know things are tough.’ That’s huge.”

It is fair to ask, in light of all the good reported in our pages, why many feel so pessimistic about the state of where we are as a society.

A hint lies in the story about Pastor Mary. Describing what health care workers face, Meg Pemberton, a geriatric care manager, said: “In 2020, they were heroes.” As frustrations with masks and protests over vaccines erupted, however, people took it out on health care workers. Hence, “in 2021, they became vilified.”

The struggles and challenges we face in this life are real, and finding solutions is never easy. When our approach to these problems shifts, however, from helping others to winning our personal battles, that’s where the vitriol and animosity emerges.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia’s 7th District made this very point in a Feb. 3 interview with The Free Lance–Star. In a wide-ranging discussion about the new district lines, her upcoming campaign and her approach to governance, she talked about how we begin to find our way back to civility.

“You can be a Democrat, Republican or independent,” she says. “Where we go wrong with things is, as soon as we disagree, we shut down because we don’t think we can get anywhere.”

She then relayed how she was affected by a piece that Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, R–Ariz., wrote following her husband’s death. In it, Cindy McCain described how her husband “was a passionate Republican,” Spanberger says, “but valued the relationships of those who disagreed with him.”

She said that’s “stuck with me.”

Our region faces many tough battles in the weeks and months ahead. Entering those frays, it’s important to keep the relationships ahead of what we want for ourselves and our political parties.

Even if you win this time, after all, “We are all going to get caught in the storm,” Stefanie Hughes says. “No one is immune to that.”

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