The other day, as I left the supermarket and lugged my groceries to the car, I passed by a bookstore. The sign outside said: “Let’s take care of each other! In compliance with the regulations from our Health Minister, the use of a mask is required inside.”
A question suddenly popped up in my mind. Why is it that my home country, the United States, seems to be so good at some very hard things, but bad at some easy things? And Costa Rica seems to have trouble with hard things, but is good at easy things?
What I mean is: Making a rule that you have to wear a mask in a shop. Going to the supermarket without shooting someone or breaking someone’s arm. Taking a few minutes here and there to doctors and scientists in the middle of a pandemic. Making a rule that all people need to get health care, and no one should die in the street because they don’t have a terrific job. These things seem pretty basic, and Costa Rica makes them look easy. The United States makes them look hard. Very, hard. And these aren’t the only examples.
Building infrastructure that, in some parts of the country, looks like something out of “The Jetsons”? Now, that sounds very challenging to me. USA: handled. Costa Rica: juuuust a bit tougher. My home country has managed some incredible feats in its history, from putting humans on the moon, to winning world wars, to writing a Constitution that became world-renowned for its brilliance. Certainly, Costa Rica has done amazing things, too, but I guess what I’m saying is that I can’t think of a challenge facing this small country that seems easy to me. Fixing its despairingly tangled city traffic; addressing its drastic inequalities; staying safe amid the relentless flow of drugs from South to North America; these are real head-scratchers, don’t you think?
Maybe the problem is that my definition of “easy” and “hard” is all wrong. Maybe what we’re seeing in these two countries – both afflicted by serious problems, but with very different governmental and popular reactions – is that the basic things in life, the things that seem easy, actually rely on a set of simple values. When members of a society are fairly aligned in terms of what matters, those “easy” things fall into place. When they disagree about the basics, what should be easy becomes unbelievably complex.
Even when all that’s asked of us is to admit that, say, black lives matter, too.
Even when all that’s asked of us, to save a life, is to put on a mask.
I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! To learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.