By Troy Headrick
I want to thank my parents and grandparents for bringing me up the way they did. The lessons they taught and the skills they instilled are serving me well at this challenging time. In fact, they have always served me well.
Until the age of eight, I was an only child. I spent my formative years living in a rural setting, without neighbors or siblings. I lived in a small world peopled by a handful of adults. Because of this fact, I sometimes jokingly tell colleagues, when we’re talking about working from home, that I’m pretty good at social distancing because I’ve been doing it my whole life. Being isolated as a youngster, and having to find ways to keep myself entertained, promoted self-sufficiency and a penchant for engaging in solitary, creative pursuits. Thus, I learned, early on, that there is a big difference between aloneness and loneliness. To this very day, I can honestly say that I cherish alone time and can’t remember the last time I felt lonely.
Because my parents’ marriage was very unstable, I spent my childhood living with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was a rancher and my grandmother, a multi-talented wife of such a man. Thus, I grew up in pastures, on horseback, milking cows, feeding livestock, and learning about the wonders of the natural world.
I observed my grandfather very carefully when he took me outside to help him around the ranch. What I saw was a man who understood how connected we humans are to nature. When there was a drought, the grass would die and there’d be nothing for his animals to graze. When there was too much rain, the creek we lived on would rise, flood, and cause problems. He taught me, in his own quiet way, how important it is to adapt to the challenges that come when nature expresses itself in ways that aren’t necessarily helpful. He understood that nature was in charge and that he had to learn to adapt to its whims (and not the other way around).
Today, many people in many places (especially in America) have forgotten that we are biological beings that reside in nature and are subject to its preeminent laws. They feel no connection to the natural world and have no sense of its power. For those who carry such a disconnect to the extreme, it’s easy to think that human beings are in charge and that the world (and everything in it) was made to be “settled” and exploited. Some in this camp see nature as a kind of playground. In such people’s minds, there’s the human world and there’s “out there.” Out there is wild and unruly and lacks meaning and purpose until it becomes civilized. This sort of thinking easily forgets that humans can’t live if they make nature unlivable.
People who think in these ways find it easy to dismiss the coronavirus as an abstraction—or as “hoax”—that has nothing to do with them. They have forgotten that their bodies are made of flesh and blood and that viruses, like human beings, are part of nature and express themselves in powerful ways. It is no coincidence that the sort of mind that could so casually dismiss an all-powerful virus as an irrelevance would also see global climate change as no big deal.
Humans can deceive themselves into thinking that they are in charge for only so long. Then nature reminds us, in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways, how misguided such thinking is. Up until a few months ago, we humans would have never imagined that our entire way of being could be changed by something that is invisible to the naked eye. Yet, here we are, being reminded, once again—we are very slow learners—that we aren’t really in complete control after all.
A number of writers, include Eugene Robinson, one of my favorite opinion columnists, have written about how we humans are going to have to learn to coexist with this virus—this force of nature.
I would agree with Eugene, and my grandfather would have too.
I look forward to seeing what you have to say on all this.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.