I run the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association under the watchful eye of Charlton Heston. He’s glaring down in my new home office from the poster of 1973’s The Omega Man— one of my all-time favorite movies. Heston plays a scientist who believes he is the last man on Earth after a virus wipes out the globe and turns others into dangerous mutants intent on killing him. Any trip outside his heavily fortified home is fraught with peril.
It’s an unsettling story we can all relate to. We’ve been uprooted from our offices and forced inside the safety of our four walls. Countless people have lost their jobs and too many have lost their lives. Trips to the supermarket are dangerous excursions.
In the meantime, we make the best of it, collecting memories of a time we would otherwise never have had together. My teenage daughter, who normally would be with her friends, enthusiastically watches Jeopardy each night with me. My son’s Little League season is postponed, so he’s become the MVP of our backyard.
I sit in my small office and work with electric co-ops that are keeping the lights on in the darkest of times. But they are doing much more than selling electricity. Many Oregon co-ops have invested in broadband, keeping people connected in the most unconnected of times. They are helping their members who struggle to pay their bills, enhancing energy assistance programs and, in some cases, setting up new programs. Co-op employees are donating money to help their neighbors and friends in need—because that is the cooperative way.
We will do our part knowing that so many have sacrificed so much during this global pandemic. No one knows when this will end and what life will be like afterward—other than people will be obsessively washing their hands. However, I have faith that, in a time of extreme loss, we will have gained a new level of humanity. Perhaps the Great Pause of 2020 gave us a chance to slow down and reflect on what truly was important. Only time will tell.
While we wait out this pandemic, I will continue to do my job and occasionally glance up to see Charlton Heston on my wall. He gives me hope, too. It turns out his character wasn’t the last man on Earth, but in a bittersweet ending, he dies in the movie’s final scene.
But not before he’s found a cure to the virus.