I once read a story about a group of amateur adventurers who crossed Greenland on foot. Prior to their journey, they trained intensely, preparing for every conceivable situation. Conditions were harsh, and at times they questioned their decision to walk across a barren snowfield as big as Texas, but they somehow persevered, not only shattering the previous record but also beating a team of professional athletes competing against them. They thought of everything, except how to end the journey.
Confidence and optimism fueled them at the beginning, helping them overcome the bitter cold, endless sunlight, and physical exhaustion. Then, someone made a mistake, accidentally leaving a tent pole behind. They were in the middle of Greenland, however, so they could not quit, or they would certainly freeze to death. Turn back, and they wasted months of preparation, so they had no choice but to continue. One mistake led to another, and morale dipped and personalities clashed. Confidence and optimism vanished, but they succeeded, nonetheless, fueled only by sheer grit. Eventually, however, they saw the end in sight, so optimism and hope once again returned. Unfortunately, that was when things went wrong.
Despite far exceeding their wildest expectations, shattering the old record and besting an Olympic athlete, their “victory” was hollow. With only a few miles to go and with their goal literally in sight, mistakes, conflicts, and old-fashioned human nature bubbled up to overshadow their historic accomplishment. They wisely jettisoned excess gear and food on the last day, but they should have also laid down other weights that so easily beset us during prolonged stress: frustrations, grudges, resentment, and unforgiveness. Victory can never be shared through finger-pointing, so the relationship that sustained them through incredible hardship festered into something poisonous.
A year ago this month, we all started a long, unplanned walk across Greenland together. Unlike our heroes, we were not prepared for what would unfold. International chaos. Vast economic damage. Disruption to every routine. Everyone suffered a new kind of stress; nevertheless, most places faced it all as a community. We cussed and discussed (sometimes COVID and sometimes each other), but we trudged through it together. When mistakes were made or when one of us was weak, others stepped in. When people’s nerves frayed, we blamed it on the Rona, and moved on.
We never quite knew when it would end, but we can now see the end of our journey on the distant horizon. As we approach the one-year mark of the pandemic officially disrupting our world, we have another special challenge: how to prevent a year’s worth of frustrations from bubbling up in the months to come. Like our Greenland party shows us, bitterness can often emerge after such a grueling, albeit successful, journey. Instead of emerging with an unbreakable bond of fellowship, their journey fractured them.
I feel blessed to have taken this journey with fellow Oklahomans. We faced our walk across Greenland in unique ways. Yes, we cussed and discussed, but we figured most things out. No one did it perfectly, but no community did it better. The stress squeezed out some unpleasant attitudes and actions in almost everyone. As we finish this journey, we must intentionally extend grace to each other. Let any shortcomings die with the virus. We must leave the soiled, useless baggage on the snow.
Chalk it up to COVID and forgive, for finger-pointing rarely strengthens relationships. The paths of bitterness, frustrations, grudges, and resentment emerging on a national level will never lead to peace. We all must decide now to resist this path. We must chart our own course of forgiveness, appreciation, joy, and restoration. We must intentionally extend grace to each other to ensure a future bound in fellowship instead of bitterness. We have walked across Greenland together, Oklahoma, and we can see our warm destination ahead! Let’s resolutely determine to have an attitude of gratitude. And while we are at it, please continue to pray for the safety of our schools each second Sunday of the month.
Tom Deighan is a public educator and currently serves as superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. He may be reached at email@example.com