By: Tara Kerrigan Hayes

It’s that time of year again for our favorite holiday re-runs, and if you’ve ever watched the hit film, Love Actually, you’ve experienced the pull of your heartstrings before the first character is even introduced.

You can credit the opening sequence, with its flood of images from the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport years ago; a tender montage of loved ones reuniting and enthusiastically embracing one another. Mothers, fathers, friends, lovers, leap eagerly into each others arms, kissing, hugging, crying tears of joy, as Hugh Grant’s voice tenderly narrates about how “love is everywhere”. As you watch the blissful expressions of these real life people – not actors – there is an unmistakable air of gratitude for the relationships. The raw emotions shared are truly palpable, and if you’re anything like me, this opening gets you every time. Also, if you’re anything like me, you didn’t just tear up at those images this year as you did in previous years… this year, you bawled.

Because here we are in 2020; the year of isolation, when such an exchange of affection would bring utter chaos.

2020; the year a hug became something to shun, when the cruel irony is, this is the time we need touch the most.

This is the year that we’ll hear the collective boos and hisses across the planet as we boot 2020 out of our lives this December 31st. But it also happens to be the year that brought out the best in those who rose to the occasion. The year that I witnessed one of the most touching displays of solidarity and humanity that I’ve seen in a long time. The type of stuff movies are made of.

It began when Kirsten Hunter, of Portsmouth, NH, came across a melancholy Facebook post by an old friend – the type of post that might elicit brief texts from well-wishers offering words of encouragement. But anyone who’s struggled emotionally, (which is any of us lately), knows how even a generous sprinkle of lights can evaporate quickly when there’s enough darkness. Sometimes what you need is the whole, raging disco ball.

Dubbed the f—you2020karoakechallenge, Kirsten turned to music and community, calling on others to rise up in a testament to friendship by recording themselves performing a song of their choice and posting it on Facebook, for all to see. Kirsten went first.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’d be totally mortified at the idea of singing in public”, says Kirsten. “It’s not something I’d normally ever do, and so that’s exactly why I did it”.

In a tender rendition of “The Blues”, by Elton John, it was Kirtsen’s aversion to the limelight that made her ode to her friend, (and to anyone hurting, really), all the more authentic and heartfelt. She posted her song, and tagged 25 others.

Among those she called to action were a special group of friends who’ve been bonded by a youth gathering they attended as teens, on Star Island. A place where uniqueness and individualism were celebrated long before acceptance became a deliberate effort by society, these friends have remained inextricably connected throughout the years, regardless of time or borders.

Needless to say, this is a wildly talented group, who enthusiastically rose to the challenge armed with diverse perspectives, an eclectic array of song choices, and a healthy dose of humor. And the results were exquisite.

With songs ranging from upbeat pop, to theatrical tunes and earnest ballads, there were witty puns, clever props, plenty of dancing, and even a few costumes. Collectively, the performances evoked both tears and laughter, particularly the brave performance by a brother / sister duo who took on Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s, “Shadows”, (imagine the high notes, which were intentionally, hysterically cringy).

While the performances were joyfully entertaining, it was the sentiment behind the efforts that was most moving. At a time when physical proximity is impossible, this group found a way to feel connective by the subtext of their history together. It was something unspoken, yet highly personal, which made all the difference in the world.

The collectiveness of the project not only reinstills faith in the human spirit, but it poses the question we all should be asking ourselves, not solely during the holidays, or through this pandemic, but moving forward always; how do we show up for others in a way that actually makes a difference?

How do we lift the spirits of those who will have no family at the arrival gate this year, (or never did)? How do we nurture the souls of the lonely? The sick? The forgotten?

In the spirit of Kirsten and her friends, it appears the answer might be simply to get creative – and personal. To find a way to not just tell others – but to show them – that even though it may not feel like it at times, (especially now), love is STILL, all around.