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How to Be Better in the Face of Coronavirus

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The happiest moments in my life all used to center around climbing. 

The first time I won Youth Nationals. 

The first time I won Open Nationals. 

The first time I made it to a World Cup final. 

All times I cried hot tears of joy and felt pure bliss–everything having fallen into place, all my hard work having paid off and me, from a wholly mediocre town in white suburban Texas, being transformed into an ethereal dam, perfectly on the edge of reality and a torrent of emotions. A moment transcendent of time. 

And then a day would pass and that feeling would lessen. The smile would fade, the high feeling would plummet. I’d always be left feeling like the spin cycle of a washer–beating rhythmically back to mainstream life, perforated with tiny holes that slowly drained all that was. The thing about accomplishments is that they only make us happier for a moment … And then what?

Famous Victorian-era novelist George Eliot will tell you that it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Eliot was equally known for having a way with words and being an unattractive sexual deviant–so it’s no surprise that she lived her life surfing that dream-chasing wave, always looking for better horizons. Like many others before and after her, Eliot patched her holes up with optimism. You, too, can fulfill your dreams and in doing so, become better.

Life is as it always has been–centered around the exhausting pursuit of happiness. Of course, fulfilled dreams almost never make us good or fulfilled people.

Amid the recent coronavirus pandemic, climbing gyms have temporarily shut down. And as the heavens opened up with shitty, symbolic rain clouds, I sat at home pouting, feeling that familiar heart pounding anxiety that comes with closing doors–my spring training would be thwarted. I wouldn’t be able to send the hard projects that I wasn’t going to be ready for and half the year would go by without me having done anything to show I’m a better, more accomplished person. Mediocrity persists. A good spring 2020 climber is the person I might have been, if not for coronavirus.

I know I’m not alone. Almost any climber that says they’re content to sit at home is lying. We all climb to relieve stress, to be with others, to improve ourselves, something–all reasons wrapped up in that same, relentless happiness quest. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, so long as we’re aware of when those desires conflict with the bigger picture.

Coronavirus is still uncontained. Everyone is facing an unprecedented pandemic that will ravage the economy and millions of livelihoods–nearly 10,000 have died and state-wide mandates are causing temporary closure of thousands of businesses. Folks, things are looking bleak. 

It’s time for climbing, along with our egos, to take a back seat. Moving forward means accepting ourselves first and then looking to help others. Coronavirus should serve as a not-so-friendly reminder that sending the gnar or winning a comp, no matter how happy it makes you in the moment, will not make you a happier person, so forget it and start looking outside of yourself. Mediocrity persists. 

After you’ve meditated, done some push-ups, taken a walk or done whatever to help you be you, reach for your wallet and donate to your local food bank. If you’re not an at-risk population, sign-up to volunteer here.

Next: Don’t panic and hoard all the food and toilet paper from the grocery store, you’re only adding to shortages and more panic. Yesterday I went to Natural Grocers because my usual grocery store, City Market, was wiped clean of virtually all produce. At checkout, I asked the cashier how the store had been faring against the corona crisis. “Yesterday we didn’t have a single piece of produce in the store and our shelves had virtually been wiped clean,” she said. “A father came in and said he had two kids at home and no food. What was he supposed to do?” If you already have essentials at home, eat it before buying more. 

Call your at risk grandparents or neighbors. See if they need help with food or prescription delivery. Even if they are stocked up, a friendly conversation can go a long way in making them feel less isolated.

Keep paying your employees, as you are able. Buy gift cards or punchpasses to your favorite gyms or restaurants. Order books from independent bookstores. Ultimately, support your local businesses from afar.

Donate to the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Coronavirus Care Fund, which supports vulnerable workers. Consider other organizations, such as the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which helps immigrants in a New York detention center. Project Hope partners with communities, health care workers and public health systems to help raise global health. Save the Children is another good one—children may not be at risk for the virus, but they certainly will, in part, suffer the fallout.

Consider fostering a dog. Dogs have been shown to relieve stress, and animal shelters need the relief.

Life may be hard, climbing might be your outlet, but here’s an opportunity to temporarily win against that ego battle. Persistent mediocrity can mean real fulfillment when communal responsibilities are your focus. Here’s your opportunity to focus on a much bigger, much more important project and actually be better. Good luck everyone!

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