As we have rounded the corner past the anniversary of the start of the pandemic – I still remember thinking, “Oh, we’ll all get a nice two weeks off to relax, and then it’s back to the grind” – it’s hard not to reflect on everything the past year has dealt us, especially when you work with small businesses. I’ve seen firsthand how the pandemic has affected them in my area. It’s truly a reminder of how quickly things can change.
My mind automatically goes to Iceland. Now, I’ve been to this beautiful country twice (and, barring any further outbreaks of a certain virus, will go again later this year). You experience so many different landscapes that you feel like you’re bouncing around the set of a Star Wars film. Then there’s the Northern Lights. And yes, it’s cold, but we already deduced that from the name.
Iceland’s nickname is the “land of fire and ice.” But up until the recent volcanic eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano that occurred just outside of Reykjavik, the country’s capital city, many may have forgotten why.
Since the eruption, I’ve seen aerial footage and photos from National Geographic and travel Instagrammers alike, and they’re all mesmerizing: the burbling spew of white-hot sludge descending down the rocks in a river of patterns and shapes, glowing a mystical red against the darkness of the landscape as it flows steadily. I can only imagine what the palpable heat feels like for those capturing the footage from above; it must contrast so starkly with the cold, wet air rising from the ocean.
It’s been reported that on some days, more than 10,000 people have flocked to witness the volcano’s mesmerizing display – which is saying something, considering Iceland has had virtually no outside tourism and limited travel throughout the pandemic. Why does a natural event like this capture our attention? It seems to draw human interest on a scale that is unmeasurable. Kind of like a global pandemic.
Maybe, I thought to myself, it’s because of the contrast between the rugged landscape and the fearful knowledge that anything – even parts of entire countries – could be destroyed at a moment’s notice. Maybe it’s because you’re literally watching new earth being formed. And even though some of the rock only sticks around for mere hours before a new surge of magma and lava smothers it, it’s still something being born. (Or maybe it’s just because of the pretty colors, ones that many people only see in apocalyptic movies or the glossy pages of a seventh-grade science textbook.)
When I look at the volcanic eruption, I am reminded of the decimation and, in some cases, the rebirth the pandemic brought to so many small businesses. The rugged terrain that they occupy is volatile in normal circumstances, but we quickly learned that in a pandemic, all bets were off. Some small businesses shuttered, unsure of when – or if – they’d reopen. Some leapt into action, providing those items we so desperately searched for on the bare shelves of Target and Wal-Mart. Others evolved and grew with the changing tides, finding more success than they’d expected.
Most interestingly, there were a lot of ASBTDC clients looking for startup assistance. At first, I kept wondering, “Why would you open a business in the middle of a pandemic? The economy is uncertain at best. Every news article touts a depressing headline.”
But many of them flourished. They began – and grew – in a period of destruction and uncertainty. Like the volcano, they formed new earth, in the hopes of enduring.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.