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My Turn: Abandoning caution carries the steepest of prices

  • A girl holds signs as she protests during a rally against stay-at-home orders put into place due to the coronavirus on April 23 in Topeka, Kan. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 5/14/2020 6:40:13 AM

When we first moved to New Hampshire years ago, we took skiing lessons as a family, ready to embrace New Hampshire in every season.

After we had officially graduated off the bunny slope I rode the lift with my then 9-year-old son for our first trip down an intermediate slope. I spent the lift ride coaching my son on the fine points of unloading and preparing to head down the hill, assuring him that I was right there with him.

As the bar came up, he bolted down at breakneck speed and called out to me, “Don’t worry, Mom! I know EXACTLY what I’m doing!” As I clumsily tried to follow him, he immediately careened down the hill, and within 30 seconds had plowed into a skier ahead of him, sending the two of them rolling together in a tangled mess.

My son is older and wiser now. With a certain amount of satisfaction I note that his own child is giving him a run for his money much like he gave us. Hang onto your helmet; it’s going to be a wild ride!

I thought of this story and others like it as I celebrated Mother’s Day with my family remotely this week. Stories like this make me laugh, but this year it’s hard not to connect them to the mess we are in during the pandemic, and attach a grimmer moral to the human obstinacy and sheer pig-headedness we are witnessing around us.

Angry folks march on the State House, unmasked and sometimes toting guns, demanding that the state reopen so they can get back to business as usual. They must be saying, “We know EXACTLY what we’re doing!” Parents and a nearby school board member bring their children to a playground and flaunt stay-at-home orders. Shoppers refuse to wear masks in public places. Our leaders hold press conferences unmasked, and until recently, without practicing the social distancing they are preaching about to us. All of them must know exactly what they are doing, no?

It’s impossible for a parent to coach a child so the child gets it right the first time and all the time. After all, we learn from our mistakes even better than from our successes. We are fortunate that, most of the time, the stakes are not life and death.

However, the tangled mess we are in now is more dire than some childish adults among us are willing to believe. They choose willful ignorance over prudence. They figure that if they feel okay then they should be free to do whatever they want: “Live free or die!” What they fail to see that their careless disregard for those around them could easily result in “Live free AND die!”

Clearly the concepts of wearing a face covering, staying 6 feet from others and sheltering at home are counterintuitive for many of us.

We wear a mask because we care about those around us, even if we don’t worry so much about our own health. Others wear a mask to protect us.

We observe social distancing because, even if we think we’re healthy enough to survive the virus (a risky assumption at best), we can unknowingly transmit this incredibly contagious illness just by talking to someone or coughing in their vicinity, even if we think we’re well.

We stay home so we minimize the chances of exposure, reduce the risks to our living companions, and lessen the already severe burden on our health care staff and other essential workers. In this state, at least so far, we have the privilege of walking outside.

Our political leaders still send mixed messages about how we should behave, so perhaps it’s not actually willful ignorance among some of our fellow citizens. Their news sources tell them to “liberate,” get back to work, make America great again, careen down that slope!

Instead, we need to listen to our health care experts, hobbled though they have been by the people who claim to lead us. We need to take the crash course in epidemiology that is being offered from honest news sources every single day.

We need to grow up and become adults, go forward with caution, for the sake of all those dear to us.

(Millie LaFontaine lives in Concord.)




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