Tumultuous times breed confusing emotions

Scott Swanson

These are certainly tumultuous times.

June’s been a wild month, so far; certainly not what many of us expected as we cruised merrily into a new year back in January. Our staff can recall a lot of people (around us, anyway) anticipating “a good year.”

The past three months have been good, in ways, for some: retail store owners who weren’t forced to close and who have benefited from a steady flow of largely unemployed customers fueled by government relief funds and lots of free time; for dogs who have gotten lots more mileage on walks with their families than they might have expected back on Jan. 1; for Plexiglass manufacturers, Zoom Video Communications stockholders, Netflix content producers, to name a few.

For others, it’s been more difficult.

We have local business people who have committed significant effort and finances – their lives – into their enterprises, only to have the carpet yanked out from under them by dictates from the state forcing them to close. Some, I’ve been told, may never reopen.

Students who don’t already have the natural desire or support (read: committed parents or other family members) necessary to do school at home have struggled. Teachers and parents have had to figure out how to keep the kids engaged for three months of virtual school.

It’s been a tough run for school and local government officials, who have had to figure out how to provide services their bosses (the taxpayers) expect in an environment where nothing is sure.

It’s been rough for churches and service clubs and fraternal organizations, in which a principle of fellowship is key – interaction that produces encouragement in their faith or the goal of their organization.

Certainly not least, there are also the actual victims of the coronavirus, though we don’t really know how many we’ve had in Sweet Home because officials haven’t divulged that. It IS a terrible sickness.

It’s been a challenging three months for, well, all of us, really.

Then, beyond the COVID threat, our own community has been hit hard by tragic realities. Sweet Home has seen five children and young people die in horrific circumstances over the past month and a half. It’s always terrible when anyone falls victim to fires or horrific wrecks, but these were children.

Compounding the angst created by all of the above are the images we see on TV of massive crowds protesting a terrible injustice, and those of lawlessness and looting.

As many have pointed out, the same public officials who have incessantly forbade us from approaching within 6 feet of anyone who is not a close family member have been remarkably silent when protesters crown shoulder-to-shoulder in Portland and other Oregon municipalities. Politics can be inconsistent and complicated.

To be fair, the way forward is not always clear, especially in the public arena.

We have a population that’s been restricted from going about their normal routines for nearly three months, who likely were already on edge when they witnessed the horrific video that triggered these uprisings. It’s not surprising that large masses have responded with the outrage we’ve seen on TV. It’s also not surprising that there have been some bad apples who have contributed to the outrage with outlandishly illegal behavior, hiding behind the masks that are so convenient.

Anyone who’s been in a leadership position can attest that being in charge isn’t always fun. People who think they are as smart as you are (and possibly really are) micro-analyze your every move. This being the U.S.A., every decision is fair game for debate, if not ridicule.

Whether the leadership provided by officials who have engineered Oregon’s response to the threat of the coronavirus, who largely shut the state down for 10 weeks, was wise or not remains to be seen.

Certainly, there have been mixed messages, and I’m not talking about the contradictions by President Trump and his public officials.

It remains to be seen whether the measures enacted to protect us were appropriate, given the numbers of victims in our community – which we can’t know, since Linn County’s health officials won’t tell us where the virus has struck.

There have certainly been bright spots in all of this. People in Sweet Home have generally kept their cool through the stress of this experience – and it has been stressful, having routines turned topsy-turvy, not knowing what’s coming or when.

We’ve been innovative. We’ve figured out how to use Zoom, something many of us probably had never heard of six months ago.

The high school graduation (see page 1) is a sterling example of how Sweet Home stepped up. It was one of the most satisfying graduation experiences I’ve ever been part of (as a reporter, at least). I’ve had three daughters graduate from Sweet Home High School, but I think this one meant more to me than any other.

And then, to cap it off, that procession, a parade of graduates in cars through the streets of Sweet Home, was superlative. The kids were clearly eating it up and so was the community. It was a true exercise in goodwill and community spirit.

Given all of the above, it’s not surprising that Oregonians are edgey. But emotion is not a good source of rational decision-making and although we may have questions – or worse – about things that are going on around us, this experience we’ve had, we need to temper our reactions. (Which is why this column has undergone multiple rewrites.)

Be healthy and be safe!