Mettle

The word “mettle” has fallen out of favor in many circles. A good working definition of the word is: “A person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.” Courage, spirit, resolution and tenacity are excellent synonyms for “mettle.”

You won’t have to look far to find examples of people proving their mettle. If you’ve had an appointment with your doctor or been to a hospital recently, it was because someone proved their mettle. If you’ve had a delivery from your Fedex driver who’s been working 7 days a week, if you’ve picked up a dozen eggs delivered to the grocery store by an exhausted truck driver, or if you’ve been served by a police officer, an EMT or a firefighter who was trying to continue serving the public while protecting their health and the health of their families, you’ve seen people proving their mettle.

If you haven’t seen it, or acknowledged it, you have benefited from it nonetheless. It’s every place where people have squared their shoulders and stepped forward to fill the breach. All across the nation people are sacrificing, working longer hours and confronting dangerous situations to keep life as we know it as close to normal as possible. People are worried. They’re scared. They’re emotionally distraught. (After being confined at home with your kids what criticisms do you have for their teachers now?)

It is not given for everyone to be able to demonstrate mettle in as visible or as public a way as our medical professionals, civil servants and tradesmen who keep things running. Society is held together by countless beneficial individual choices that will never see the light of day. It may be that your opportunity to show your mettle is in your choice to shelter in place, to comply with the considered recommendations of the medical community through various levels of government, and to use common sense in public.

Many of us are doing that, and we will be the deciding factor between hardship and disaster.

Too many of us are not doing that. We are failing the mettle test, and if enough of us continue to fail, then disaster is inevitable.

Of course we are human and fallible, and history has demonstrated that when it comes to mettle, not everyone makes the cut, but the outcome of difficult times always depends on how many do. Humans, even at their best, are subject to rationalizing their fears and choosing accordingly. We’ve already seen the hoarding and the outbreaks of violence in those areas hardest hit by the pandemic. We’re also seeing another fear based behavior that threatens the vitality and the civility of small towns and rural areas like ours.

You see, small mountain towns like ours are at the end of the supply lines. That’s why our grocery prices are higher than larger towns that are better supplied. We are also last in line when it comes to getting resupplied. That’s why the meat section in our local grocery stores has been empty so often lately.

But that’s not the only reason. Small towns in out of the way places, with abundant hotel rooms, cabins and campgrounds, have seen an influx of “virus refugees” who have left the city thinking to somehow escape the pandemic. In some cases they have brought it with them. In many cases they have helped strip the shelves of needed food and supplies. In many cases they have abandoned a place with hospital beds and ventilators for a place with few or none, and they are a life flight away from the nearest facility that might help them.

Let’s digress for a moment so we can bring this problem into better focus. From where I stand, the problem is to a certain degree a generational problem, at least in our area, and my own generation bears a large part of the responsibility. I’m between what is commonly known as Gen X and Boomer, and my comments now are directed to the people who are also in that age range. If that makes you mad, take a moment and allow some blood to circulate to your brain.

I’m speaking now to people who are a bit older, perhaps more affluent, retired or financially able to pack up and relocate to another town for an extended stay. I’m sure there are plenty of 60 year old truck drivers, doctors, and civil servants who still have their shoulders to the wheel, but by and large the ongoing burden of this crisis is being borne by younger generations.

Disregard the popular videos of kids partying on Spring Break in defiance of caution and common sense. They are children, and doing stupid things is what children do. Children are not hoarding toilet paper. Millennials are still at work, doing double shifts at the hospital, driving delivery trucks, walking a beat. The elderly are sheltering in place or trapped in a nursing home and isolated from the love and support they need the most. It is the “mature” generations who are refusing to stay at home, who are taking virus vacations to small towns and buying up the groceries.

I’m sorry Gen Xers and Boomers, and I’m ashamed. I know this doesn’t apply to all of us, but it does apply to many. Art is long and time is fleeting…and this was probably our last chance as a generation to prove our mettle. It’s not too late…

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