Wow. What a past few weeks this has been.

I want to address my column specifically to anyone who owns or manages a business, professional clinic, or industry here in our newspapers’ coverage area of Northeast Tennessee.

None of us saw coming the invisible monster that hit us business folks, large and small, squarely between the eyes like a well-tossed fast-pitch ball. We have all been affected, every one of us in some form or fashion, from the “mom and pop” stores to the “big box” giants .. some more severely than others.

Here, our doors have been closed to “walk-in” customers, just as many of yours have been, and just Wednesday, we were told by our corporate powers-that-be that all of our staff members, hourly and salaried, will be working “part-time” until further notice. (FYI — in case you have need to contact our office — our new temporary work hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. — 3 :30 p.m., and 9 a.m. — noon on Friday.)

Many of your own businesses have closed their doors, temporarily, and some have had to layoff good, hard-working folks. Others, sadly, may never re-open.

It has put a lot of pressure, stress and worry on lots of people who have families to support and bills to pay.

We get that because it has affected our folks, too.

The dark days of the past few weeks temporarily caught us by surprise, and knocked many businesses off our balance, but as the days turn into weeks, we’re getting up, we’re dusting ourselves off, we’re making the best of a terrible situation, and we’re looking to a Higher Power for guidance and peace through the storm.

We aren’t completely out of the woods ... yet, but we’re getting there.

Now, about those dark days.

My favorite passage in God’s Word is the poetic and spectacularly powerful Twenty-Third Psalm. One line in those beautiful verses of Scripture should be front and center in our thoughts right now, the line that goes, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ....”

I want you to stop and consider with me the one word which often gets overlooked when we read those verses: SHADOW. For many years I read those verses and never truly understood the significance of that one little six-letter word.

Consider the characteristics of a shadow. It’s not something you can hold in your hands or put into a box. It is what you would call an “optical illusion” of sorts, a darker area, or shape, that is produced when a body comes between a source of light and a surface behind it.

But go back to the verse written so many centuries ago by Shepherd King, David: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the SHADOW of death ...” (my emphasis on, ‘shadow’).

How are shadows produced? Think about it ... in order to have a SHADOW, you must first have a SOURCE OF LIGHT.

Right now, our nation is walking through the valley of a very dark shadow, one created when the COVID-19 bug came between the light and the world as we know it ... a germ which we did not want nor invite to our shores, but what I continue to hold on to in my own faith is that our LIGHT SOURCE is the Giver of Life, the Prince of Peace, and the Savior of the World, and as long as we trust in Him, no matter what the future may hold, we know Who it is that holds our future.

And no matter how dark that shadow may be, the LIGHT is and has always been with us, because without a light — even the proverbial tiniest candle in a darkened football stadium — there can be no shadows ... only pitch darkness.

I am thankful that we, here in northeast Tennessee, have not experienced the levels of COVID-19 infections as have communities in other more-populated regions.

But the virus IS here and of that we should be very, very mindful and continue to be vigilant about washing our hands and practicing “social distancing”.

As more tests are performed, naturally, more “confirmed” cases will surface. But after speaking with doctor friends in several states whom I know personally, they tell me that this coronavirus bug probably was right HERE, in America, as early as last Christmas, but was likely routinely misdiagnosed as the flu, a bad cold, or just a bronchial/sinus infection. Without a specific lab test being performed, there was no way for a diagnosing physician to be sure, especially since COVID-19 has many symptoms that mimic that of influenza.

At the time I write this, COVID-19 has claimed several thousand lives in the USA. Any death is unfortunate, but consider this: During the current 2019-20 flu season (through March 15), THAT bug has so far claimed SEVEN THOUSAND lives. So it is ... we live in a world that, despite all of our medical and scientific knowledge, where diseases can still strike ... and strike hard.

As does President Donald Trump, I believe the worst of this big, bad booger, from a medical standpoint, is still ahead of us. But from an economic recovery standpoint, its going to take a long time for our local/regional business community to fully rebound from the losses that we have all experienced to one degree or another.

But rebound we will. Count on it.

As your hometown newspaper of record for the past 135 years, The Rogersville Review (and now our sister paper, The Hancock Co. Eagle, which is celebrating our FIRST anniversary in April!), are keenly aware of the stress that you, our friends and neighbors in the business community, have suffered through these closures and disruptions of our daily business cycles.

Believe me when I say that we, too, have suffered. But I am an eternal optimist and believe, without question, that we will come back better and stronger than ever.

We will still have to deal with being careful for some time, that is a given, but with that said, even though many businesses (just like ours) have had to temporarily close their doors to walk-in customers in the interest of protecting our staffs and you, our friends and neighbors, from the “bug”, WE ARE STILL IN BUSINESS, we’re still PUBLISHING NEWSPAPERS (and magazines), and we’re still keeping you up-to-date with information on our website and Facebook pages.

Many of you are still operating by working from home or by running “drive through” or curbside delivery service.

No other news media source cares as much about or does as much for the local business community as do your LOCAL newspapers (and, I might add, our mutual friends and the staffs at our LOCAL radio stations.)

Out-of-area “news” sources talk big, and often rush in whenever a crisis rears its ugly head, but where the rubber meets the road, its your LOCAL NEWS MEDIA that makes the difference and that will still be here for you through the long haul ... long after the crisis is over.

If you look through the pages of the Review and the Eagle, you will see that the majority of our local/regional advertisers are still there ... still in business ... still advertising ... still inviting the public to trade with them (even if on a limited basis) ... and, now more than ever, still needing the public’s business, friendship and support.

While we do not yet know at what point some or all of the restrictions will be lifted, we do know one thing: WE ARE AMERICANS AND NO ONE, OR NOTHING — ESPECIALLY A DANG GERM! — CAN KEEP US DOWN FOR LONG.

Winter is fading. Longer, warmer days are here. Farmers are planting. I see mama cows with newborn calves scattered all over the hills and valleys of Hawkins and Hancock pastures that are becoming alive, green and new again with rebirth and the eternal promise of Spring.

Hundreds of yellow daffodils dot my yard with color and just yesterday as I was leaving for work, I watched in amazement as a flock of 33 turkey gobblers, many of them in strut, showing off their full-throated “gobble, gobble gobble” voices, peck around in our yard as they wandered through the neighborhood looking for food. I stood there and watched, and was thankful to God for allowing me to see that show of nature, which reassured me that, through it all, HE is still in control and that life as we knew it WILL return to normal.

Schools will reopen, churches will resume corporate worship services, sporting events will take the fields, we can go back to meeting and greeting each other in normal fashion, and as business owners, our doors will reopen.

I encourage you to continue to advertise your business or professional clinic through this difficult period which hopefully will come to an end soon. If you have not previously advertised with us, please, give us a try! You will find that in Hawkins and Hancock counties, people STILL READ AND DEPEND ON THEIR LOCAL NEWSPAPERS (in print and online) for the best and most accurate information, community events, opinion pieces, sports, and yes, ADVERTISED SPECIALS from our fellow business owners and managers.

Through the end of May, The Review and The Eagle will be offering specially-priced and VERY AFFORDABLE packages of advertising opportunities (print and digital) that you can take advantage of to jump-start your business as we hopefully soon begin to see a very welcome light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Again, please let me say a personal THANK YOU to all of you, our fellow businesses, whom I know have been limping along the past few weeks just as we have, hoping and praying that this mess will soon be just a bad memory.

Please let us know how we can help you in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Best wishes and may God bless you, your business family, and your personal family.

Together, we will overcome!