Chris Rourke - Times Editor

Crisis reveals character.

That’s been evident to me in the last few weeks — not just in response to COVID-19, but in a conversation I had with Mariah Besecker Green, a Gunnison woman battling cancer.

She’s been dealt a tough hand, and she’s rising to the challenge. She’s not wasting time questioning her doctors as to the best path forward, or complaining about her treatment. She’s vigorously engaging in her healing process with her sights firmly set on the only acceptable outcome — wholeness.

Her example opened my eyes.

While I rigorously support and defend a citizen’s right to free speech and to protest (who doesn’t love a good tea party, Boston or no?), I question whether a mob mentality has arisen in some sectors of our community. Do we really think this is what is needed to accomplish the goal of recovery? Is there another agenda afoot driving the passions of those who are crying foul, an ancient script that finds it opportune to use crisis for long-entrenched criticism?

Protestors say they want to open Gunnison County safely, yet I struggle to see that demonstrated by a lack of following safety protocols — a.k.a. masks and social distancing — which were not used last week in downtown Gunnison.

And it’s not just businesses which are taking a beating; relationships are too — up valley, down valley, second homeowners, business owners. I have lost friends due to the political fallout of public health restrictions; but at the same time, I have also lost friends to COVID-19. 

How do we not grow increasingly discouraged?

Fred Rogers, of the Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood children’s TV show fame, said that when he was a child and he saw “scary things” on the news, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers.” In bringing you the whole story, we’ve endeavored to do just that.

Front and center are people like Kyleena Falzone. Daily she has offered food to those who need it, whose jobs have been lost during this crisis. She has not harped upon what she thinks is the best solution to virus-imposed unemployment. Rather, she got busy. Each night she has a new sponsor who donates pizzas, taco kits and food for farmers markets. She’s worked tirelessly from Day 1 to support her community.

I reached out to one of her donors, a second homeowner from Louisiana, Bill Peatross. I asked Bill why, at a time when second homeowners feel the hurt from being once banned from Gunnison County, that he decided to take another approach. His answer touched my heart.

“My sense is that all public officials in the county are doing their best to cope with a situation they have never before encountered,” Peatross said. “While I may disagree with some decisions, I don’t question the good faith of those that make them. I’ll continue to do whatever I can, whether in the valley or not, to support my neighbors and friends.”

Bill Peatross is a helper.

An incredible energy was pervasive in downtown Gunnison Friday as businesses began to open. Traffic is increasing and people are beginning to venture out. The lodging industry received a plan for a stage by stage reopen. If all goes well, we’ll see hotels and other rentals in full blown operation by June. — that is, if state restrictions permit travel. Let’s not forget that even if we were to “flip the switch” and retract all local health orders, we would still be subject to the state.

Restaurants will once again buzz with activity and while it may not be at the levels we’ve seen in recent years, I have faith we will get there once again. Perhaps, too, will come the complaints once again that we’re “just too busy.”

Unfortunately, I worry about the social fallout destined to occur — the resentment that will fester, the grudges that will be held. I hope that’s not so. 

As for blaming Health and Human Services Director Joni Reynolds for ruining the economy, I find that ridiculous. If we believe that the public health official has too much power, then let’s work to change the law, not demonize a woman whose sole effort and sleepless nights in the last weeks have been to protect the public.

It seems trite to say it but our valley is a truly special place, not just because of the scenic beauty and the outdoor recreation. It’s the people who make it special. As we move into the days ahead — and the unknown — let’s consider our neighbors, and our friends, our colleagues and our clients. Each of us has been impacted in some great way by this pandemic and we’re not unique — one look at national news will show you. Let’s be different in how we handle it, and offer empathy to each other. 

Better days lie ahead. Let’s not just look for the helpers. Let’s be them.