Hanging By A Thread

Now’s not the time to ask me how I’m doing unless you’re ready for a real answer. The pleasantries that usually would have been exchanged at the beginning of a meeting are no longer normal anymore, just like everything else. My responses have depended upon what has unfolded that day—did I engage in the news cycle, did another email with devastating effects on my business land in my inbox, did I accidentally get drunk on the couch the night before binging Netflix, did I manage to forget for just a minute? 

My responses have gone something like this: I’m total shit. I’m a bit hungover. I’m trying to find out just how long leg hair can grow. I can’t seem to get my work done anymore. I spent five hours hitting refresh on a website to try to apply for a $5,000 grant and I’m tired of fighting for crumbs. I don’t know if I’m going to have a business at the end of this year. I’m angry/sad/disgusted about what we’ve allowed to unfold in this county. 

Not surprisingly, this has completely taken people off guard. I suppose that’s because we’ve grown accustomed to showing up strong and to creating an outward appearance that is confident, together, and successful. That’s what’s society has expected of us and it’s certainly easier than truly engaging in what other people are experiencing. The distance gives us an out and it perpetuates a false narrative that “we’re all OK.”  

The reality is that many of us have been hanging on by a thread. 

For me, this is one of the most significant outcomes of watching COVID-19 unfold across the world—bearing witness to incredible suffering that could have been prevented. What would the death toll look like for Indigenous communities and People of Color had they had access to affordable and robust healthcare for their entire lives? How could families have better weathered a job loss if they had been paid a living wage, allowing them to put some money aside each and every month? How could we have eased the mental burden and mitigated the risk of transmission by having paid time off and sick leave policies that benefited employees? How many small businesses would survive and thrive if we shifted our focus away from big business and bailouts? What would our lives and this country look like if we valued and fought for community rather than our personal independence and freedom?

The cracks in the systems are (now?) so painfully obvious. And no one should be surprised that they exist in our outdoor spaces as well. For as much as we’d like to think that the outdoors is an apolitical space where anyone can play, it certainly isn’t, which was brought to light (again) recently with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who lost his life only because he was black and running through his neighborhood (a simple act that so many of us have not only taken up during quarantine but taken for granted). Access to the outdoors, equity within the outdoors, and the ability to recreate openly and safely are all part of these larger societal structures that by design advance a select few and purposely oppress others. The question is, how much longer will we tolerate this? 

It requires great humility to recognize what we’ve been doing wrong and to come to terms with our own complicity or ignorance. And it takes courage to actively make a difference. How we vote, the difficult conversations we actively engage in, the messages we share, who we follow, the people we hire, the books we read, the organizations we donate money to, the businesses we choose to patronize. There are micro and macro decisions that we make every day that could be under evaluation, and not because of guilt or profit or status. But because we can do better, and we deserve it.

This will help us far beyond mitigating the continued challenges of COVID-19. It will help us rebuild and move into a more sustainable way of being that protects and uplifts the people and the planet, not just profit. What we’ve learned over the past few months is that many of us can withstand and overcome things we never thought were possible. COVID-19 hasn’t broken us. It’s readied us for the fight we should have had a long time ago. 

Originally published in the May 27th edition of Outdoor Retailer's The Weekly.