A teacher (I can’t recall which one or I would name them) once gave my classmates and me a piece of advice that stuck with me: In a stressful situation, imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen, consider how you would react to that, and stop worrying in the meantime.
I was reminded of this idea a few weeks ago as COVID-19 was just beginning to change our course of history. At this particular moment, I was feeling anxious and worrying that coronavirus would have end-of-the-world consequences.
I came upon a news story that caught my eye. An expert had mapped what they believed the worst-case outcomes of the pandemic might look like.
I read about the millions of lives and the billions of dollars that could be lost. I learned that most people would eventually contract the virus and something like 3 percent of the entire global population could be wiped out.
And the more I read these disturbing figures, the more calm I became.
The article didn’t mention the complete collapse of the world economy, the fall of civilization or the end of mankind.
The worst-case scenario was tragic, but humanity would carry on. And besides, world leaders were already putting plans in place to eliminate the worst-case scenario as a possibility.
As I write this column on Monday, April 27, COVID-19 has taken much from us. It’s taken a life in Williams County and has put many businesses in jeopardy. But, verily, the worst has not come to pass. People are still living their lives; businesses are scraping by.
Perhaps it is the optimist in me that can’t help but feel the world will be a better place once the threat is closer to being eliminated (or at least closer to being controlled). Maybe we’ll be better stewards of the Earth once it's safer to explore it again; maybe we’ll hold each other a litter closer when we can do so without fear of spreading deadly disease.
During the most recent Bryan City Council meeting, councilwoman Mary Leatherman made a request to citizens and workers in Williams County:
It seemed an almost trivial request at first blush. After all, many of us are wearing masks that cover our mouths when we're out in public. It also brought to mind up the cliche of a man telling a disinterested woman that she should smile, a common occurrence that has been skewered multiple times on social media and pop culture over the past few years.
But the more I've thought about it, the more I agree with the sentiment behind Mary's simple advice.
We have to smile. We have to remain optimistic. We have to find the joy in the face of a collective adversity we've never before encountered.
Not because it's going to be OK. This level of disruption, recession and disease could never be OK.
But it could always be worse. And if it indeed gets worse, we'll deal with it the best we can, by continuing to smile.