Peterson: Shine a little light |

Peterson: Shine a little light

My nephew Christian is a kid who never runs out of questions. As soon as you answer the one he’s asking, he’s already got another lined up. The world’s a big place and he’s just figuring it all out.

Yes, it can get exhausting at times, especially this past year when his daycare in Nashville was shut down and my brother-in-law Jon took over most of the child care duties while my sister worked from home. A few years ago, when Jon was in an opening band touring with the Zac Brown Band or Little Big Town and playing in places like Fenway Park and Citi Field, I’m guessing that he never envisioned a year like this last one. Who did?

But with the gig economy all but dried up for working musicians like him, he stepped up and became the world’s greatest camp counselor/arts-and-crafts teacher/expedition leader/short-order cook and dance party host.

I know it has been incredibly hard, but there have been moments that put everything in perspective, like this text Jon sent a few weeks back:

Went to get groceries. Thought I’d listen to some of the records that came out today. Car is silent. Shawn Mendes piano ballad is on. Serious piano ballad. Car is silent through the whole thing. Christian is looking out the window, contemplative. We pull into the driveway and just as we do, the serious piano ballad ends.

Christian: Dad…?

Me (thinking he had a question about the song): Yeah buddy…

Christian: If we had a monkey, what would it do?

Yep, exactly. I mean, seriously — if we had a monkey, what would it do?

In a year that’s made us all want to cry at times, you savor the laughs when they show up unannounced.

I bring all this up because I pulled Christian’s name out of the hat this year in the annual Peterson Secret Santa swap. Or actually my sister did for me, since she’s the one who dutifully hands out assignments each year for my big family, which now numbers 18 between my parents, siblings, spouses and kiddos.

The rules never change: $50 to spend, preferably at a local business. But this year I couldn’t help myself and blew past the allotted amount after my sister sent out gift ideas for Christian.

On the list: various tubs of rubber animals, as well as these amazingly life-like stuffed animals from a local bookstore in Nashville.

I bought Christian a tub of plastic sharks, then picked out this ridiculously large stuffed lemur from the bookstore’s website. My sister said when she showed up to pick up the lemur, the employees were all intrigued to see her because it was the first one they’d actually sold.

Needless to say, I’m a giver, not a getter. I learned long ago that it’s a lot more fun to wrap presents for others than it is to open them yourself.

I think a lot of people have learned that lesson, too, this year, as we’ve rallied as a community to combat this plague that has battered our local economy and left so many neighbors and friends struggling to make it through.

Who isn’t ready to send 2020 packing? At the Vail Daily, we opted not to even do a traditional look back at the year that was because, like everyone else, we’re ready to move on. With vaccines arriving in the valley this month, we are so ready for 2021.

Instead, we decided to focus on all the good that’s come out of the bad this year. But while we’ve covered the big stories — the relief funds and the volunteer efforts and the donation drives and gift giveaways — there are still so many untold stories of folks digging deep and giving back behind the scenes.

You know the ones. Servers struggling in reduced-capacity restaurants who find a fat tip left behind at the end of a meal. Parents volunteering for recess duty to give overworked teachers a break. Presents somehow making their way to kids in need over the holidays, as well as grocery and gas cards making their way to parents who need a lift. And, in the shadows, friends and family and coworkers repeatedly checking in with those who are struggling with behavioral health issues.

It has been a year of action. It has been a year where we leaned on each other. And there’s still more giving to be done.

Earlier this month, there was the incredible story that donations for Eagle County Gives Day this year exceeded $1.5 million, surpassing last year’s total by nearly half a million.

“It just showed the power of collaboration in this community,” said Brooke Skjonsby, the executive director of the Vail Valley Charitable Fund who also helps organize Eagle County Gives Day. “We’re in this together, and this is raising the tide for all of us.”

That said, the need is unrelenting, and budgets are down at local nonprofits that have been hamstrung by not being able to hold regular charity events. Even if it’s just a few dollars, every little bit helps right now.

You can also do your part to help local businesses by making a point of where you spend your dollars over the holidays — or by simply being courteous to those who are working.

I try to avoid clichés at all costs, but it’s true: It’s better to give than receive.

Which is why I can’t wait to watch my nephew open up his Christmas presents via FaceTime. I’m dying to see his reaction when he finally finds out what it’s really like to have a monkey.

Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at

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