Opinion: We’ll get through this, together

People across metro Atlanta have been hanging encouraging messages on windows, even as we all practice social distancing. This window display is in East Point. (Contributed)

People across metro Atlanta have been hanging encouraging messages on windows, even as we all practice social distancing. This window display is in East Point. (Contributed)

When Becky Garnett saw the idea on Facebook, she just knew she had to share it.

With so many children home from school, what if her East Point neighbors placed pictures of hearts in their windows?

The hearts, Garnett explained, could provide some relief for children and their parents walking through the neighborhood — serving as both a scavenger hunt and a way for neighbors to say “hello” to one another during these times of social distancing.

Soon, hearts began appearing everywhere — on front doors, windows, mailboxes and shutters. They hung from porches. Neighbors posted pictures of their children, taking a break from schoolwork to draw hearts of their own.

Even Garnett admits she was surprised by the response.

“Pictures of hearts started showing up immediately,” Garnett told me. “Then I thought, I better get mine together.”

Indeed, these are strange times. Life has been upended for everyone. Yet, amid the uncertainty, a wave of kindness is sweeping across metro Atlanta.

Folks are finding a way to lift their spirits — and those of others.

“Little free libraries” — those boxes that once held free books — are now stocked with canned goods and peanut butter, a friendly reminder that we need to look out for one another.

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Our neighbors are stringing up Christmas lights. Or offering to run to the grocery store for those who can’t leave their homes. Basically, lending a hand wherever they can.

“As someone who is immune-suppressed and recently wheelchair-bound, I’ve been touched and grateful by the help of so many neighbors,” one woman wrote on the Sandy Springs Next Door page.

Neighbors, she reported, left home-cooked meals in a cooler on her porch. They walked her dog and made sure her refrigerator was stocked with groceries.

Even those solar-powered mini billboards used by police to warn us to buckle up or slow down now read: Everything will be OK.

What if this new spirit of looking out for one another became the new normal?

Wouldn’t that be nice?

People across metro Atlanta have been hanging hearts and  encouraging messages on windows, even as we all practice social distancing. (Contributed)

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But make no mistake about it: These are difficult times.

To help you reduce your risk and protect others, we recognize that a big part of our job is to provide you with useful and accurate information about the coronavirus.

We know you are counting on our team of journalists — more so now than ever before — and we believe that keeping our community informed provides an essential public service.

That means we’ll continue to report on cancellations and restrictions, numbers of new cases and the urgent dilemma facing hospitals and first responders. We’ll also keep a watchful eye on our elected officials, just as you expect us to. After all, we want to ensure they’re doing everything within their power to slow the spread of the virus and protect us.

When the AJC arrives in your inbox or on your driveway, we hope it provides a crucial and comforting bit of normalcy during these troubling times.

Through it all, we also recognize the importance of painting a complete picture of how life has changed. So, we’ll be sharing more stories that illustrate how the dizzying turn of events is bringing out the best in so many of us.

You may have noticed we've already introduced a new feature called Friday Diary — a destination where you'll find stories of hope and optimism from your neighbors.

It’s just one way we’re trying to keep your spirits up while offering a bit of a diversion from the news around us.

“In today’s new world, things are very different — and scary too,” said Cathy Lussiana, who lives in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and will share her story with readers on Friday. “We are in this together, and we will get through it together.”

» RELATED:  Watch a message from AJC Editor Kevin Riley

As you might imagine, the stories we’ve collected are truly inspiring.

There’s the high school senior, who can no longer see her friends at school or chat with them over lunch. She and her classmates are now writing one another personal handwritten letters filled with words of encouragement.

The entrepreneur who’s urging folks to remain calm when the panic might otherwise be overwhelming; to reach out to others during this time of isolation; to offer encouragement at a time when so many of us may be gripped by fear.

The retired marketing and public relations professional, who offers this advice: “Help someone else. Check on your neighbors. Pick up groceries for someone else. Share where you can.”

» CONNECT:  Check out the AJCePaper 

As we've been forced to reimagine sections of our newspaper, these uplifting stories will become even more important. Even during tough times, there is still plenty of good news, and we ask that you continue to share those stories with us by emailing us at inspireatlanta@ajc.com.

We’ve also set up a new email address, coronavirus@ajc.com, so that you can tell us how you’re spending your time and how you and your family are coping. You can also share your news tips.

Based on everything we’ve reported, it looks like this could last a while.

So, let’s make the most of it, perhaps savoring a rare opportunity to stay in and cook, or eat dinner together as a family, or walk the dog and enjoy nature — all the things we sometimes can’t do when we’re trapped at the office or stuck in traffic.

Garnett, the East Point woman who inspired her neighbors to decorate the neighborhood with pictures of hearts, is among those looking for the silver lining in all of this.

She and her husband, both of whom are environmental scientists, are working from home these days, spending more time than ever with their 2-year-old twins.

“I’ve seen an uptick in people walking. Everyone seems to be in a good mood. People are more talkative and friendly,” Garnett said. “I’m really optimistic that people are taking this idea of ‘flattening the curve’ so seriously. It shows me that they not only care for themselves, but also for others.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we can look back at this frightening time and marvel at how we rose to the occasion? At how we helped one another? And how the world changed — for the better?

Mark A. Waligore is senior director and managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.