Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

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Somebody honked at me yesterday for a minor driving flub, and my first thought was: Come on, lady! Our lives are being turned upside down by historically crazy and traumatic events, and you’re upset about a guy delaying his left turn a little too long?

We’re all on edge. I forgive her. I should have been paying closer attention, but I’ve been a bit distracted lately.

At another intersection earlier in the day, my car started rocking back and forth like a boat on Bear Lake. It turned out to be an earthquake, but that now seems trivial next to the rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis.

That honking horn got me thinking. As the virus and its impact continue to rock our world, a lot of things like little traffic annoyances may not matter anymore. We’ll all stop sweating the small stuff, in other words.

Come July, for instance, it might not matter whether or not you’re out of ketchup for your french fries. You’ll just be glad to have some french fries. Same goes for what brand of soft drink you prefer or what sports you follow. We’re already there with toilet paper.

Three months from now, will we still care about the tidiness of our neighbor’s lawn, the coif of our hair, the typo in the local newspaper or whether our socks match? I wonder.

Have you noticed how trivial and out-of-sync the typical television ad has become in the last week? Book your dream vacation now at Sandals Resorts. Be like Matthew McConaughy and drive a Lincoln. These companies need to get some new ads — and fast — but how are they going to produce them if everyone is either laid off or ordered to shelter in place?

As we are all forced to focus on essentials and work collectively to get through this crisis, perks like new cars, the latest phone and luxurious vacations are going to be the farthest thing from our minds.

And how about internet trolls? Two months from now will they still be stalking the social media platforms and getting under everybody’s skin? I predict not, believe it or not. They won’t be crawling back in their holes, though. They’ll actually decide to change their ways!

When I sat down to write this column, I thought I might come up with something pleasant in order to give readers a little relief from current events, but all things are coming up coronavirus both globally and locally — with the possible exception of the persistent Emporium development issue in Logan.

All in favor of setting this issue aside for a bit while we figure out how to handle overburdened and undersupplied healthcare systems, unpaid utility bills, tenant eviction notices, business closures and tax-relief requests, say “aye.”

The fact of the matter is that a lot of nonessential things are going to go by the wayside in the coming months (big stuff, small stuff and otherwise). What will remain is what should have always mattered but got blurred and cloaked by all the shiny objects we’ve been grasping for over the past half century. What will remain is what’s in people’s hearts and what they have to offer to the greater good.

A virus presents an interesting challenge when it comes to collective vs. individual thinking. To protect others from germs you must protect yourself; to protect yourself, you must rely on others. For survival, both sides of the age-old me vs. them dichotomy need to intertwine in each of us separately and in all of us collectively.

If this happens, it will be a beautiful thing. The situation we’re in right now and the strategies both individuals and institutions are developing to cope with it could well take our society to a new, greatly improved place — albeit kicking and screaming.

Like during the Great Depression, World War II and 9/11, working together and developing new ways of thinking will be the keys, and there is every indication humanity will rise to the occasion. We’ve already seen this on the local level with groups of people organizing online to provide assistance and develop needed workarounds.

If conditions get extremely dire, it may even turn out that most necessities are addressed on a local level.

Either way, you have to think the every-man-for-himself paradigm is not going to work in these challenging times, and the longer the crisis goes on, the more that society’s strictly self-serving institutions and individuals will be forced to either lend a hand or get out of the way.

I saw a guy among the big crowd of shoppers at Smith’s this week with a T-shirt that said something to the effect of, “To take is to lose; to give is to gain.” I wondered if he wore this all the time or had it printed up for the occasion.

It made me stop and think about my own motives and actions, and in all honesty I can’t even figure out what those are at the moment. I do know my family has avoided hoarding, and we are all feeling pretty good about that for the time being.

Whether the virus itself or society’s reaction to it is to blame for the planet’s current predicament no longer matters. We are where we are.

Where I was Friday at 3 a.m. was sitting up sleepless in bed, wondering which way is up. After a long period of self reflection and what you might call meditation, I reached for my iPad and scrolled through the latest news, topped by California’s stay-put order.

Then my eyes landed on a YouTube video by Russell Brand, the iconoclastic British comedian who has carved out a new niche as a social theorist of sorts. In the video, he appears to be in self isolation and is riffing about the current state of affairs at 100 miles per hour. I don’t know much about Russell Brand, but the following statement really hit home and seems to sum up a lot of what’s going on:

“In a sense, the reality, as we even understand it as laypeople, is that this is a highly contagious thing, it’s having a massive economic impact, no one knows what to do because it is to a degree unprecedented, and we have got to work out the distinction between the necessary centralized power around medicine, law and order, justice, distribution, and the necessary localized power that’s been so neglected. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how exposed we are to abstract systems.”

That’s a mouthful. But, yes, thoughts very much like this have been swirling through my mind and I’m guessing through most or yours too. It’s enough to make a fellow lose his concentration behind the wheel.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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