These days, the focus of every news story seems to be COVID-19, and with good reason. We must all stay informed and do our part to keep our loved ones and community safe. It is a serious time, and if you would have told me a year ago that I’d be marking my one-year anniversary as your Delaware County prosecutor in the midst of a global pandemic, I would not have believed it.
This time of year, my family is usually planning for Easter, which falls on April 12. It’s typically a time to look forward to being together. April 12 is also my birthday, and the one-year anniversary of me serving as your Delaware County prosecutor. While we are still looking forward to Easter’s blessings, it is admittedly a little different this year … okay, a lot different.
I remember this time last year. It was a bustling, busy time with people all around — people congratulating me on my appointment, people eager to introduce themselves, and just a general outpouring of community support. In fact, my first year as prosecutor began at the city of Delaware’s Easter egg hunt. It was a rainy day, so the hunt was moved inside. I met so many people that day! Children were playing. The Easter Bunny was delighting visitors, and it was just a really fun day. As I think about it now, during this time of social distancing and quarantine, there is something that sticks out, something that is exactly the same today as it was then, and that is that we, as a community, are resilient.
The event went on, despite the rain. Eggs were hunted. Games were played. Pictures were taken. I also remember another aspect of the human spirit from that day, the resiliency of one woman in particular who visited our table. Several of her family members were involved in a serious case with our office. They’d found themselves to be victims of crime, and she was doing her best to support and uplift them as they awaited trial. That was the starting point of me, as your prosecutor, seeing the best in people during what arguably is a most difficult time in their life.
Since that day, I’ve met with many victims. Sadly, some even grieving for loved ones, lost senselessly to murder. I’ve seen these victims testify in court, confronting perpetrators of horrific crimes. Even in this wake of uncertainty, victims of crime remain resilient. People who have experienced the worst trauma accept with grace that an important hearing, trial, or sentencing may be continued, even if it perpetuates their grief. While it’s not exactly business as usual in today’s uncertain climate, I assure you, business is being conducted in a safe and responsible manner.
As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk. The office is not bustling. The phone is not ringing. People aren’t rushing in to chat about cases or issues facing townships. In fact, I’ve only spoken to four people today in the office. This is the reality of day-to-day operations during our current health emergency. While there are challenges, we are blessed with the ability to work remotely and to have a skeleton crew in the office each day to ensure our doors stay open. So, while my first year comes to a literal quiet end, and our future is unknown, I remain in awe of something I’ve known all along — we are resilient. I may not have thought about it much before, but if you take a moment, you will see resiliency is all around us, as it’s always been.
These days, I tend to see resiliency first, every day, in the eyes of my almost 5-year-old daughter. Like your children, she can’t go to school right now. She can’t play with the neighbors, and her visits with Nana and Pop Pop are through a window, or at a distance on the driveway. She told me last week she couldn’t go to school because she didn’t wash her hands enough. Her little thought process brought a tear to my eye, but nonetheless, she, and countless others, settle in to new normals.
High school band members play from their doorsteps at 3 p.m. daily. Families go on “bear hunts,” seeking out stuffed bears thoughtfully placed in the windows of neighboring homes. Neighbors fill sidewalks with inspirational pictures and notes written in chalk. Our resilient spirit is everywhere – even when we are alone in our homes, we are together in this fight.
I also see resiliency in our first responders. They continue to serve our communities on the front lines, though their work may expose them and their families to this scary virus. There are daily conference calls to update community partners, to inform and educate on best practices in navigating these unprecedented times.
Like you, I don’t know when things will get back to normal. I don’t know when we will again see the inside of a courtroom or be present to comfort a victim in person. I don’t know when we will be face-to-face with co-workers, talking about the weekend or celebrating office birthdays. What I do know is that we will get through this together. I know our resilient spirit will win, and life will return to what is was just a few weeks ago.
Some days it’s difficult to think about anything else but COVID-19, however as I write this, I am thinking about a time before coronavirus.
I remember a year ago when my journey began as your Delaware County prosecutor. What a year it’s been! Of course, it started out as the achievement of my lifelong dream, and that dream continues to be fulfilled to this day, but things are admittedly different today than I’d ever imagined.
The thing that stays the same though, the thing that binds us together and keeps our community strong is us – all of us. May your spirit stay determined and your resiliency shine. I thank you for letting me serve as your Delaware County prosecutor, and I wish you all a happy and blessed Easter, albeit from a safe social distance.
Melissa A. Schiffel is Delaware County prosecutor.