Interesting times, indeed. Not long after Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus (COVID-19), Mayor Michael Hancock did the same for Denver, Donald Trump restricted travel from Europe and then declared a national emergency, Colorado hit 33 cases of the virus (then 44, then 77), the Dow took a two-thousand point dump in a single day before recovering the next, organizations cancelled events right and left, and the first Coloradan died of the disease. We all tried to find the right side of the line between panic and reasonable precaution.
The unavoidable fact is that some people are going to suffer profound loss because of this disease. A lot remains unclear about how the disease will play out in Colorado and elsewhere, but this much is clear. We’re in for some heartache.
This may seem paradoxical, but often we can help ourselves and others get through tough times by contemplating and expressing gratitude. Perhaps you’ve seen the great interview with Fred Rogers in which he says that his mother told him during times of trouble, “Always look for the helpers.”
The benefits of gratitude are revealed by folk wisdom as well as by science. In her book The How of Happiness, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky notes that grateful people tend to be happier, more hopeful, more helpful, and less depressed.
I’m especially worried about our doctors and other healthcare professionals, many of whom will be overworked, tired, stressed, and at serious risk of illness themselves. A great way to be helpful and grateful is to check in with the medical workers in our lives and in our neighborhoods and see if they need help with groceries, food prep, child care, pet care, house cleaning, and so on. Or, if they don’t need a helping hand, just say thank you. They have our backs; let’s have theirs.
This is also going to be a tough time for many businesses. Business owners are going to be fighting like hell either to keep the goods and services rolling or to cover the bills if they have to shut down for a while.
So this is a good time to reflect on how much we owe the producers in our lives. Sarah Skwire recently reflected on a passage from the Talmud that we can interpret along these lines (I’m editing lightly): “How much effort did Adam the first man exert before he found bread to eat? He plowed, sowed, reaped, sheaved, threshed, winnowed in the wind, separated the grain from the chaff, ground the grain into flour, sifted, kneaded, and baked, and only thereafter he ate. How much effort did Adam the first man exert before he found a garment to wear? He sheared, laundered, combed, spun and wove, and only thereafter he found a garment to wear. And I, on the other hand, wake up and find all of these prepared for me.”
Many people will have to live in near-isolation for a while, either because they are at higher risk or because they contract the virus. We are social creatures by nature, so cutting off social ties can be hard and can even contribute to depression. Thankfully, we can easily pick up the phone or launch a video chat to keep open the lines of friendship and care.
It’s an especially apt time to express gratitude to all those who keep the lights on and the computers charged, who keep the data cables and networks working, who build and maintain the satellites and other infrastructure that keep our phone lines open.
I also deeply appreciate all the people working to make good information available about this coronavirus outbreak. At the national level, infectious disease experts such as Amesh Adalja have worked tirelessly to present relevant information and to help put it in context. Journalists at print, web, television, and radio outlets across our state have revealed important implications of the disease for our area. That’s really hard work, and it matters.
Yes, I write for a publication with a center-right perspective. But let’s give credit where due. Governor Polis has taken this problem seriously, worked to understand the science of the disease and its implications, provided a steady stream of useful information, and taken reasonable steps toward mitigating the damage of the disease. His efforts to expand testing have been impressive. (I disagree with aspects of Polis’s policies here, especially regarding certain mandates on businesses, and I also think that the emergency powers available to governors are overly broad. These will be important conversations for another day.)
Usually in my writing I’m more interested in “wonking out” on policy and explaining the problems I see with various government laws or proposals. But sometimes it’s helpful to step back, take some deep breaths, and appreciate all that we enjoy as Coloradans, even in times of struggle and hardship. We live in one of most prosperous and beautiful places anywhere, and we are surrounded by people who generally work extremely hard to do right by themselves, their families, and their communities. For that we can be grateful.