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Britta Gustafson: How will this moment define you?

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

So this is “our moment,” they tell us in a town of Snowmass Village community email.

Those words prompted various visceral sensations when I read them. Among those conflicted emotions were suppressed fear; a rising sense of altruistic heroism dosed with compassion for the greater good, a nauseated reaction to the “too little too late” sentiment it evoked and finally a reluctant acceptance of the fact that we are truly in this thing now.

It’s no longer a disease on the other side of the world on a second page headline, tintamarre from the paranoid or something “we” are immune to in this fancy place.

So what’s next, stock up on toilet paper? Obviously. Or is that exactly the wrong reaction, the one that makes me cringe with concern?

Isolation seems to have the potential to breed selfish behavior. Hoarding begets defensiveness, which ultimately begets misanthropy. And if not treated, we can unintentionally begin to see everyone else as an outsider, an existential threat to our own individual survival. That is a potential aftershock.

Let’s not go there. Protecting ourselves isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal of social distancing. We are doing this to protect others from our own potential unforeseen contractions. We can easily misinterpret the suggestion to be that of self preservation, but for many of us COVID-19 is a really contagious virus that we may hardly notice or even realize we might be carrying.

So the efforts are to love those you don’t know and those who cannot protect themselves, and to love them enough to help protect them. Love them enough to take it seriously but not in a defensive, reactive way. This also is an opportunity to provide compassion for our medical personnel so we do not inundate them with our curious nature to know more about how it affects us individually on a micro level, particularly if it’s just out of vested self interest.

Of course we should have had mail-order self-testing available back in January. But like the New Orleans levy during Katrina, hindsight in the aftermath is a sloppy mess, salt in the wound, hair of the dog: muddled, painful and pointless when regurgitated. Let’s disgorge that at the WHO’s next planning conference and for now ride this wave.

How do we come together while apart? Take only what we need, perhaps? Is that a good starting point? Blame less, support more. Love, like sunshine, can be both cathartic and a powerful proven remedy while anger and resentment fester.

I live in a home with high-risk loved ones. And although perhaps we should have seen this drawback before the COVID-19 tsunami, the noise on the news these days creates a din so powerful that its hypnotic-hum most likely rendered us apathetic until it knocked on our own front door.

Like most, I missed the obvious signs: the BBC’s commentary, our president’s incessant denial. We didn’t stock up and probably didn’t hunker down soon enough.

Is the blissful naivete of the bourgeois to blame?

Many of us here in SnowmassVillage live a privileged lifestyle (admit it). We have learned to expect comfortable outcomes. Even with our children, we teach our youngest to get into little colorful boats with safety bars holding them and together we journey into dark tunnels where looming music surrounds. And just when a sense of primal reactivity begins to rise, we are plunked down into magical musical lands, rides where animated characters sing to us. That’s how these seemingly terrifying journey ends, right? A thrilling ride with a harmonious ending? No one gets hurt. I fear we are so desensitized that even the real threats seem too surreal to process and I, for one, cannot shake the feeling that we are just on the uptick of Splash Mountain. It will all be over soon when we will be laughing and singing once again in our own happy place.

While in reality we are perhaps at a turning point when the core of our character may yet be put to the test. Will we lead with love, or is that just fanfare for bored dilettantes to spout during fancy fundraisers?

This could be that moment, the one in which who we are surfaces in light of a communal need to look out for one another. Are we really in this together, or is it a dog-eat-dog world out there and we have just been enjoying our Cesar Filets up until now?

Let’s invoke our best nature and be the people we cheer for in the disaster films, not the opportunists who appeal to the greedy undertones we do our best to suppress under ordinary circumstances.

I don’t know what that looks like during this ever-changing landscape of uncertainty. But I believe we will know, and recognize, our “moments” if, and when, they present themselves.

Character is best judged by how we treat one another in the worst of times and how we extend ourselves when it’s easier to retreat. We are a gregarious species and even if isolation is the key to defeating a virus, it shouldn’t be misinterpreted as rational for malicious indignity. Take care, and know I’m here for you.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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