The endurance of the human spirit

As I was riding my mountain bike under a canopy of bright orange aspen leaves, I was overcome by the power of nature. I stopped and looked out to the west and took in the profiles of Quandary Peak, Mount Helen, Father Dyer Peak, and Peak Ten of the Ten Mile/Mosquito range in the distance. I thought of the tremendous forces that created those mountains.

About 80 million years ago, the Pacific Plate drove under the North American Plate at a low angle, forming the Rocky Mountains. Ancient granite over a billion years old punched up through sedimentary rock, like the red sandstone we see near our campus, to create a beautiful landscape. Plant life took hold over millions of years, forming the beautiful forest I was riding through. It is hard in these moments not to feel insignificant.

As I rode back to the trailhead, I started seeing more people out to view the colors. There were kids trailing their parents. Infants were catatonic, passed out in baby carriers. All were hiking to see the changing leaves. Everyone was there to see beauty.

What we’ve lost

All of this was happening in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which more than 200,000 Americans have now died. I can’t comprehend the scale of this human loss any more than I can comprehend the forces that created the mountains and land on which we live. I am struck by all the family members affected by the loss of a loved one. I am saddened by how this global event has upended the lives of ordinary people.

Countless have lost their jobs and livelihoods. The pandemic has laid bare disparities in our society, as the impact on communities of color has been devastating. There is little doubt in my mind that the pandemic has fundamentally changed our society, and our future “normal” will not look like our past “normal.” Yet, the human spirit endures as we attempt to live our lives.

How we are enduring

We see this at Colorado Academy, as we have brought students back this fall. We started out slowly, going virtual at first, but now have the Lower School students who choose to be on campus every day with the Middle and Upper School students in our CA Flex model. Nearly every day, we have to respond to some potential case of COVID-19. But, every day, I see our faculty and staff come to work to serve the students. They are brave and are modeling service to others. I see our students, and I hear laughter again on our campus.

It was so, so quiet this past spring, when the pandemic forced us home. On my walk from my office each evening, I see the Soccer and Field Hockey Teams out training. We are trying our best to go about our work in difficult circumstances. While there is joy, there also is sadness. There is some grief for loss of valued traditions. We miss being able to all gather together. We wish we didn’t have to wear masks. We want a sense of human connection.

What keeps us going

Psychologists have long tried to understand what drives human behavior.  And, I am most interested in this question now. People throughout the world and society are forging ahead.  Do you adhere to Victor Frankel’s existential school of thought, in which humans seek to find meaning during their short time on Earth? There are the humanistic psychologists who argue that humans are driven by a series of needs that eventually lead to self-actualization. Looking across these models, humans have all kinds of needs and drivers. We want freedom and security. We desire love and human connections. We are driven by power and achievement. We seek happiness. Humans have demonstrated that they can put others first beyond their immediate needs. That is what this moment calls on us to do. But, it can be hard.

And clearly, as I noticed on the day of my ride, we seek out beauty and meaningful experiences. In this pandemic, we have all been forced to confront ourselves. This is hard for humans to do in general. And, the isolation and uncertainty around this moment are hard on people’s mental health. In a recent parent meeting, I asked some parents what has gotten them through the pandemic. Two parents said that their faith has grounded them in this moment. It has given them hope and a sense of a security. Another noted that they have tried to look at the positives, and for this parent, it was the ability to be with their children. They noted their gratitude for the small things.

I am grateful for Colorado Academy community. I am thankful to work with dedicated teachers and staff members who care about their craft and their charges. I am appreciative of a supportive parent community. Most of all, I am grateful for our students. I love their curiosity and their joy. We are going to get through this. But, it is going to take patience and sacrifice. I hope we can do this by appreciating what we have and seeing the beauty in the world around us.