A few days before the President declared a national state of emergency over COVID-19, I was in Indiana with my family and speaking at a fundraiser for a children’s museum. During our visit, Kim and I took the kids ice skating at an indoor rink.
There was a little seven-year-old girl on the ice with us. This superstar in a sparkly tutu was gracefully flitting around, skating backward and doing pirouettes. You know, generally making ice skating look as easy as walking down the street.
We secured some of those ice walkers for the kids, and they ended up scooting around the rink, slowly (and safely) building confidence. My wife was the best skater of us all, but not without some unease under her veneer of confidence. She was good, but not little-girl-doing-triple-salchows-in-the-middle-of-the-rink good.
Then there was me.
I looked like a guy who’d just had his legs replaced with unbending steel rods. Just when I felt I was getting the hang of it, channeling my inner Wayne Gretzky, I’d suddenly and inexplicably lose my balance and crash to the ice. According to my familial onlookers, my falls were of the violent variety. I looked like Charlie Brown getting upended by a line drive up the middle. It’s been seven weeks and my knee STILL hurts in places.
After our hour of free
falling skating was up, we got to watch a bunch of older girls warming up. To me, they looked like Olympic champions. They weren’t, but I reasoned that they, too, were probably filled with some measure of uncertainty and doubt, as they wondered if they’d ever measure up to real Olympians.
All of us – me, my family, and the superhuman skating machines that looked like ordinary human girls – were all on the same rink. But we weren’t having the same experience.
On a certain level, it’s just hard for someone who is gliding backward across a sheet of ice on one foot to relate to the person struggling to stand up and not die. And vice versa.
Does this remind you of a certain situation we currently find ourselves in?
Some people are afraid they will catch the virus, or spread it to someone they love.
Some people are dying of loneliness and want to get out with people again.
Some people are fearful they will not be able to support their family much longer.
Some people are seeing the dreams they spent decades building reduced to ashes.
Some people are running low on hope and are losing the will to keep going.
Meanwhile, some people have not experienced much change in their daily life at all.
We are all on the same coronavirus-themed rink. But we aren’t having the same experience.
While we may not be having the same experience, we are all on the same team. We need to pick each other up and help out where we can. We must stay focused on the enemy, which should be the virus. Unfortunately, I believe the real enemies are the evil forces using the virus to divide us by pitting us against each other. Calm, empathetic discussions with an honest effort to find common ground do not generate clicks or make for good TV. No, but drama, conflict, and villains do. If someone is good and right and true, the other person has to be a villain, right?
But what if there are no villains?
What if there are only good people, who also happen to be afraid, anxious and stressed-out, disagreeing on the best way to move forward?
Some folks wonder how we can possibly talk about re-opening anything while there is even a small threat of danger. Others wonder how their business or bank account can survive one more day if we don’t. The truth is, no one WANTS Grandma to die. Likewise, no one WANTS the Mom and Pop shop down the street to go under.
So what to do? How do we find a solution?
I don’t know, but I do know this: we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, shame, or vilify someone having a different experience on the ice than we are. We’re all teammates, after all.
I’m glad the little seven-year-old wunderkind didn’t openly mock my attempts at ice “skating,” although she certainly could have. She probably wasn’t too old to forget the days when she couldn’t stand up straight, either.
We can decide to focus on what we have in common.
We can help out those among us struggling to stand.
We can stop thinking of grace like it’s the last roll of toilet paper, and instead hand it out as if we had a warehouse filled with it.
Instead of turning our teammates into villains, we can try to understand what it might be like to be in someone else’s skates.
And remember that they may not know what it’s like to be standing in our skates, either.