Vistas of the heart and soul

Just as an RV can reveal the largeness in a Rocky Mountain vacation, a pandemic can also reveal the largeness of the human spirit.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
The Woodward family sits around a campfire at Lodgepole Campground on July 3, 2020, in Ashley National Forest in Utah.

This week’s cover story proves that you can say something important and still have some fun along the way. In it, the married couple of correspondent Michael S. Hopkins and staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman set out in search of something that seems to have been in conspicuously short supply for much of 2020: some sense of normalcy.

Their quest takes them to the Rocky Mountains and an adorable RV whose curtains yearn to flutter when the windows are rolled down. The idea is to see if you can take your bubble with you. For so many around the world today, travel can seem a daunting or even reckless prospect. Quarantines, social distancing, and industrial-sized containers of hand sanitizer do not scream “relaxing vacation.” But what if you take your world with you in a 22-foot-long mobile lockdown unit? What if your living room window could look out on alpine meadows one day and the Grand Tetons the next?

What Michael and Melanie found is that these grand spaces offer some sense of vacation not just from work, but from the pandemic. Where the world widens into snowcapped peaks and poplar forests, normalcy comes through the sheer expanse of space. It is not hard to socially distance when you are surrounded by only shaggy-shouldered bison.

But there’s a deeper lesson here, too. Normalcy is not all such landscapes offer. They also offer a sense of peace – a glimpse of a world where fear begins to fade into some larger picture. And the fact is, mountain highways are not the only route to those vistas.

Again and again, Monitor reporters and columnists have chronicled one clear takeaway from the time of the coronavirus: that our bonds of fellowship, selflessness, and kindness make us more resilient. I can remember the story of the woman and her 90-something mother who threw socially distanced dance parties to find joy. Or of the countless neighbors who have driven by a child’s house on a birthday. Michael’s story tells of the people of Montpelier, Idaho, holding a parade of cars down its main street to heal and show solidarity after a spate of suicides.

The virus would seek to make us all toxic to one another. And the coronavirus is not alone in this. The politics of today would make us distrustful and fearful of one another. Racial divisions would seek to prey upon prejudices and prevent true equality. 

In so many ways, the tendency of today is to see peace only in separation – to put ourselves in all manner of bubbles.

But just as an RV can reveal the largeness in a Rocky Mountain vacation, a pandemic can also reveal the largeness of the human spirit. There are infinite human vistas in the densest Bronx neighborhood or the tidiest Dallas suburb. 

The irony of the pandemic is that it has confirmed that peace comes not just amid the silence of whispering pines, but in the connections we share with one another – regardless of masks or 6-foot distancing. And that lesson will continue to offer resilience and healing well after the pandemic has passed.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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