DeFrates column: Create a compassionate safety net for those most affected
As Ricky Bobby once said, “I don’t know what to do with my hands.”
I had no idea how much I touched my face until someone told me I couldn’t do it anymore, and I’ve spent the last week trying to think about anything else.
As public health officials everywhere beg, threaten, cajole and argue in order to get the general population to have better personal hygiene habits, I have become acutely aware of my own lack in certain aspects of this area.
My name is Lindsay DeFrates, and I am a face-toucher. (Who knew it would only take the threat of a looming pandemic to get me to admit that out loud?)
While I now spend my days alternating between sitting on my hands, typing and otherwise not touching my face, I have found a few more moments of reflection.
Somewhere between a blessing and a curse is the benediction, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ The problem is that I assumed only interesting people lived in interesting times. Yet, over the next few days and weeks, times will, undoubtedly, continue to get more interesting, and us boring people who are keeping our hands firmly in our pockets are going to have to decide how we will live through them.
I know that a lot of people are worried. I personally, have no idea exactly how worried I am supposed to be right now because I haven’t been on Facebook for almost two weeks. I have, however, read the news and have watched with incredulity as the threat has hopped across continents and oceans to land firmly, and unsurprisingly, in our backyard. Go figure that an international ski destination would end up with international headlines at the top of our local papers.
The most well-publicized reaction can be seen teetering through the checkout lines at CostCo and City Market and involves mountains of toilet paper and seas of hand sanitizer. While it may look a bit extreme to some of us, the fear behind this reaction is very real. For the immuno-compromised, or those with other health complications, these times are more scary than interesting.
Right here, I’m also going to politely suggest that every elementary school teacher should receive hazard pay for at least a month because it takes some serious mental and physical toughness to stand in front of 19 hugging, sneezing petri dishes all day while still having to plan for a looming season of state testing. They are the real heroes, people.
For those of us lucky enough to fall outside the demographic most at risk from serious health threats, there is a nagging fear about economic consequences. Too many people in this valley, myself included, still live paycheck to paycheck or struggle to maintain even two months worth of savings. It doesn’t matter whether both parents graduated from college, or whether someone made all the right financial choices; life in this valley makes financial security as rare as a good Tinder date.
So with the as-yet unspoken word “quarantine” hanging heavily over these next few weeks, loss of income becomes another serious consequence for ourselves, our friends and neighbors. Whether business slows, or is closed for travel concerns, or whether our children have to stay home and require child care, the costs could pile up quickly, and they could severely affect the futures of people who are already hanging on by a thread.
We can easily react in fear. We can overstock up on all the supplies we need to keep just ourselves and our families safe. We can start to view our neighbors with distrust. We can focus inward on anxiety, and make choices based on imagined worst-case scenarios. We can mock those people who have concerns that we don’t understand.
We can also live out these interesting times in a way that actually builds each other up, and supports the vulnerable among us. I would like to borrow an idea from Laurie Raymond, owner of High Tails Dog and Cat Outfitters, which she shared as a comment on the Post Independent article regarding the coronavirus. She suggests that we find ways to create a compassionate safety net for those who may be most affected, even if we aren’t. She says that we should find the “micro” ways in which we can help others.
We can talk to our neighbors, and problem solve our unique struggles with our own unique abilities. Helping doesn’t have to look like dealing directly with sick people or donating money, or cleaning door knobs. Troubleshoot issues like child care, or pet walking if people’s schedules don’t work anymore. Find out which of your neighbors may need help getting medications or supplies if things get really interesting. Ask for help if you need it.
Instead of making decisions based on fear, we can pro-actively strengthen our community by creatively offering the resources we do have. Act with wisdom and follow sensible precautions like washing hands, staying home when you are sick, and of course, we can all stop touching our faces.
Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer living in Glenwood Springs. She can be reached at http://www.roaringforkwriter.com.
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.