Keeping distance without being distant
The Aspen Princess
A few months ago, I wrote a column about an incident when a lion killed a deer in my neighbor’s backyard.
It was a gruesome scene, especially for those who witnessed it. There was a big bomb hole in the snow where the kill occurred and an eerie blood-stained path that demarcated where the lion dragged the deer carcass down into the gully next to our driveway.
It was disturbing to be sure, but what was even more frightening was the way it divided our neighborhood: those who wanted the lion dead or at least relocated, and those who felt that if you aren’t comfortable coexisting with wild, predatory animals, then you should move somewhere else. In fact, one neighbor used those words verbatim. Let’s just say it got a little nasty; it did not bring out the best in people.
I bet no one is worried about that damn lion now. If anything, we are grateful to have trails right above our neighborhood where we can get out and walk without seeing anyone, whether we are being stalked by a lion or not.
I also am reminded of how we felt during the Lake Christine Fire last summer. The danger felt imminent and never-ending. I remember thinking I could not live in a state of fight-flight for days on end, my body coursing with adrenaline. Levi was only 2 years old then. I was terrified we’d be evacuated in the middle of the night, the flames biting at our heels like a pit of alligators. But I did not have to go any farther than Aspen to escape it. We also had two people we could blame it on and direct our anger toward.
With every passing day in this current crisis, the belt gets tightened another notch, limiting the reach and scope of our daily lives. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. It is by far the most terrifying event I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. But what freaks me out more than anything is the rampant fear and the bizarre and frightening ways it makes people behave, especially toward each other.
The most important thing we can do, I think, other than taking this thing seriously and following all the protocol that has come down the pipe, is to maintain some perspective and try to be kind and compassionate.
I’m afraid that’s easier said than done.
The other day I was out for a walk with my family on a quiet trail near the Roaring Fork River at Crown Mountain Park. We were making our way across a network of little foot bridges in the marsh when an older couple approached.
“Please grab your dogs,” the woman yelled, her voice so shrill with fear it was verging on panic. She held her own dog close. “We are practicing social distancing.”
“Um, OK,” I said, doing my best to wrangle my fat little dogs who were prancing around the brush and snorting loudly, more like pigs with wings, the kind of creatures you’d find in a fairy tale.
“Sure, not a problem,” I said, doing my best to maintain an even tone. My mind was spinning. Our dogs can’t spread the virus. Running around after them was only making the situation more chaotic and closing the distance between us. Had she just walked by briskly, we would have been well out of each other’s way. I managed to grab one pug and then searched for a place to stand aside, at a distance, so they could pass by. I awkwardly pushed through the thick brush with this fat dog in my arms, stumbling a little bit.
“We have a very high-risk situation here,” she said, gesturing to the man I presumed to be her husband, her voice tight.
The man gave me a friendly smile as he passed. “So sorry about that,” he said, his tone congenial. He looked a little embarrassed.
I felt my throat get tight and almost lost it. I was this-close to bursting into tears right then, for all of it. Instead, I took a deep breath and pushed on. If there’s one thing we can do for our kids, especially our young children, it’s to maintain some degree of normalcy and positivity. Falling apart is not really an option. My 4-year-old understands “the sickness” is the reason his school and many of his favorite places are closed and he can’t see any of his friends, but he has no idea what’s going on. His ignorance is my bliss at this point.
I don’t know why this particular incident triggered me, but I think it has to do with that baseline fear that has ripped through our world like the rumblings of an earthquake. It’s somewhere deep, thundering through the core of our beings like a runaway train, vibrating and shaking and rattling our bones, threatening to shake loose everything around us. Sometimes it feels like the sky is falling, though I’m not quite sure why you need toilet paper for that.
The worst part is the suspicion I can feel brewing between us, creating an unfamiliar tension in my otherwise friendly, caring community where I have only known openness and warmth.
Don’t misunderstand me: precautions like social distancing and staying home should be taken seriously. Without testing, adequate medical supplies, or leadership from an infuriatingly incompetent, (borderline criminal) federal government, this is a terrifying time. But I wonder if the damage fear is wreaking on our psyches is far worse than any sickness this virus can cause.
Keep the prescribed distance of 6 feet but you can still smile and say hello. We are all in this together. The Lake Christine Fire eventually burned out. The lion moved on to other territory, at least in our minds.
This too shall pass. Hang in there and be kind.
The Princess is working out more at home than she ever did before. Email your favorite stay home activity to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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