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Coronavirus: Observations from the airport & the ranch

As the world faces a tough curveball called COVID-19, how we respond as a society will offer many life lessons.

Much has been said about the COVID-19 pandemic, and the health and economic impacts of this novel virus have yet to unfold.

There seems to be two camps on social media.

There is the side that insists this is a political hoax aimed at destroying the American economy before the November election, and we should throw caution to the wind and continue on with our lives as normal.

On the other side is a push for social distancing and canceling events to flatten the curve of the outbreak and to attempt to keep our medical facilities from being overwhelmed all at once. Here we see the muddying waters between maintaining our personal liberties vs. collectively doing what’s best as a society.

As you wade through the massive amounts of conflicting information online, you may find yourself swinging from one side to the other. Even medical professionals are offering different views on the coronavirus, and it can be very confusing, emotionally draining and upsetting. Where do we go from here?

Today’s blog doesn’t aim to debate how you should feel or respond to this situation. At this time, none of us knows where this will head or what will happen next.

I, myself, am clinging to the Bible verse, “Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” - Isaiah 41:10

And while my faith and trust in God has always helped me through tough times, I am also being more mindful of washing my hands, staying home as much as I can and taking extra precautions to keep my family safe.

However, I must also share that last week I traveled to speak at the Louisiana Women in Agriculture Conference, and I’ve had some folks ask, “Why didn’t you just cancel and stay home?”

My response is my word is my bond, and when I make a commitment, I follow through. I have three children to feed and a ranch to support, and when I say I will do something, I do it. So after carefully considering the trip, I decided to stick to that commitment and be as mindful as I could while traveling. And now that I'm home, I'll limit contact with others and avoid family members who are in the high-risk category.

Travelers taking care

Now being in the airport the day after President Trump addressed the nation about this virus on national television was an odd and eerie feeling indeed. The airports were still busy, but I noticed more people wearing masks and gloves. There was more time spent at the sink washing hands, and lots of disinfectant wipes and GermX being used on hands and surfaces. I imagine many of the folks in the airport, like me, had work commitments to fulfill and were being as cautious as possible during this time.

Then, there were the “fun” travelers, headed to the Bahamas or Jamaica on spring break. I saw families in flip-flops and matching vacation tees and college students traveling in packs going on grand adventures. They seemed optimistic and jovial. I observed many folks on their phones scouting out their next trip and exploring where they might travel to with so many cheap flights available.

Trust me, the juxtaposition between the extremely cautious and the “YOLO” (you only live once) camps was not lost on me!

Then there were the workers. In a society where we are calling for social distancing and canceling everything, we must first check our privilege to be able to do so. How many of us are saying these things when we live in remote rural areas where isolation is the norm anyway? We more than likely have a freezer full of beef, some money in savings and the flexibility to work from home.

But what about the people in urban areas who must be in crowds in order to earn money? What about the single mom who works at the Starbucks in the airport? Or the flight attendant who needs to keep working because she’s behind on her student loan payments? What about the gas station attendant or grocery store worker who might not be able to pay rent if they don’t keep showing up to receive a paycheck?

When everyone flooded Walmarts to buy toilet paper and food in bulk (all congregating in one place in their panic, might I add), who was stocking the shelves, checking out our items and putting themselves at risk to serve us, so we can self-quarantine in peace? Let's not take for granted the local businesses, medical professionals and military who are on call and at risk, so that we can be secure and safe in the comfort of our own homes.

Time to come together

These are the many things I have been pondering as this crisis unfolds, and I urge everyone during this time to have empathy, to be kind, to not use fear to push political agendas or further divide, to use common sense, to avoid panicking but to be cautious and to be mindful that the economic burdens could be even more devastating to many families than the virus itself.

I’ve heard stories of cattle feeders or farmers who will now lose it all because of the crash in the markets — their brokers calling them in near tears as they deliver another set of bad reports.

I’ve heard stories of retirees who are watching in horror as their investments tank.

I’ve read the story of a 93-year old man who had stopped at four stores only to find that all the toilet paper was gone. He lived through the Great Depression where everyone helped one another and only took what they needed and is now confused why it has become an “every man for himself” society where everyone has a hoarder’s mentality.

I’ve heard the cries of retailers who had invested so much time and money as they planned for events like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, who are now wondering how they will ever pay for and sell all of the inventory they had stockpiled.

And, I’ve seen the heartbreak of young people as they’ve seen major cattle shows, FFA conventions and other high school events be cancelled.

Now does all this pale in comparison to losing a life or putting someone else at risk? Yes, of course. But does it remove the sadness, disappointment, fear and anxiety many are feeling at this time? No, the sting is still there, and I can't negate both the economic and health ramifications of this pandemic.

What does the future hold? We know that this, too, shall pass, but in the meantime, the unknown can be downright terrifying.

Put it in perspective

Perhaps a little perspective is in order. My friend, Abby Scholz, is a Nebraska FFA member and a junior in high school. Abby is a talented young lady, who I was blessed to meet a few years ago when I wrote a story about her brother’s battle with cancer and how the agricultural community is lifting them up during this tough time in their lives.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic, and I had the chance to meet Abby in person. She had the poise and maturity of an adult, and I credit that to her wonderful family and the fact that while her younger brother fights for his life, she has had to grow up much faster than her peers.

At the event she told me, “When things like this happen, it really makes our petty problems in life seem a little less significant.”

In the face of so many youth activities being cancelled, many young people are having to face for the first time the reality that the world is hard sometimes, and life isn’t always fair. Having graduated during the recession that began in 2008, I remember having this same realization as I saw many of my peers leaving school with no jobs and no prospects. You do everything right, and sometimes things just don’t pan out the way you hoped. But it’s how you respond that matters most.

Scholz knows this feeling well, and she penned this letter to her fellow FFA members, which she posted to Facebook yesterday. Scholz writes:

Dear FFA Member,

The past 48 hours has been anything but easy. I mean seriously, the first week in April typically brings some of the most exciting, exhausting days that so many of us look forward to for all year long.

Honestly, I feel disappointed, as if all my hard work and dedication this past year, is suddenly gone, all because of a pandemic. But, this whole messy situation has gotten me thinking, isn’t this all part of the learning experience? At this point, you are probably wanting to leave this post, because seriously, Abby?

I’m never going to be able to zip up that blue corduroy jacket again. I will never be able to give that speech again that I prepared so well. And I’ll never walk across the stage to accept my State Degree; instead it's going to come in the mail. As much as it all stinks, this is ultimately what FFA is preparing us for in the long run.

Clearly, FFA doesn’t want to send us into this world, hoping we fail or that unfortunate situations follow us wherever we go. But what FFA is preparing us for, is how to handle these types of circumstances with as much grace and dignity as we can possibly muster in these times. We are being prepared right now in these situations for hard seasons of our life that may lie ahead. God has never promised our lives would be easy, but He did promise us a life that would be filled with His light and mercy, and I think that is worth being thankful for.

Right now, I’m trying to focus on all the good things that have come into my life because of this great organization. FFA has given me countless laughs, life experiences, a group of individuals that I am blessed to call friends, and the opportunity to meet incredible people across the country including National Officers and agvocates such as Amanda Radke.

FFA members, we can’t change these circumstances. But, what we can change is our attitudes. How are we going to approach the next few weeks? Will we choose to be angry at our circumstances or be filled with thanksgiving and determination to pivot and create something positive out of a hard situation?

Sincerely,

A Fellow FFA Member

I think this is a good reminder to all of us. As we practice caution and common sense, let’s also set a good example for our young people on how to best respond in a crisis — not with panic and anxiety, but with rational thinking, calm resolve, responsible preparation and a determination to overcome the obstacles no matter what.

A good read to check out is this one from Mark Oden titled, “8 things the coronavirus should teach us.” Check it out here.

In tomorrow’s blog, I will continue to share some thoughts on this topic, where we will discuss what beef advocates should avoid doing online during this time. You may have seen a meme tying beef to corona, and I’ll share how I'm responding to nip that viral notion in the bud.

Until next time, I pray you all stay healthy and that this virus goes away as quickly as it has stormed in. In the meantime, wash your hands; take care of yourselves; stay home if you can; and check on your friends and neighbors! Thanks for reading!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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