The vaccine rollout is showing light at the end of the COVID tunnel. The 567,000 COVID deaths to date have irreparably altered the plans and dreams of innumerous families. Nothing can minimize that or magically wash away the pain and suffering. I see a rich tapestry of events and happenings over the past 18 months which offers a lot of learning.
COVID laid out in plain view the disparity and social inequity, with a disproportional higher number of the dying and suffering borne by people of color. Also, a high percentage of the essential workers did not have the option of working from home, and their willingness to face risk by showing up at work allowed the rest of us to stay safely at home.
COVID also exposed the weaknesses in our overall health care system. Our health care heroes did what they could to face the pandemic and treat the suffering. But it became clear that even after numerous warnings from the health experts, we did not have a national strategy, or adequate equipment and personnel to deal with these mass afflictions.
I observed how we need to improve our national emergency preparedness. Wealthy states fared much better than poor locations. Many times we were caught in-between federal responsibility and state ownership. Federal plans in isolation with no local support usually leads to bureaucracy, while a unilateral state-only approach works only up to a point. We need both — a federal plan, and synchronized state actions for execution.
I also saw that racism is still alive and well in our nation. It is endemic within our society. And this was given oxygen to thrive and bloom over the last few years. I’ll write about this some other time. But I must say that the virus of racism within our society harms all of us, not just people of color. This scourge needs to be reckoned with.
I saw the power of democracy play out, and I noted the fragility of our democracy. It needs nurturing, care and safe-guarding. That can only happen if we have our eyes wide open, and use critical thinking to see through the haze. Democracy works, and will thrive, if we are willing to participate in it, engage in dialog and let our voices be heard.
In my rearview mirror I see that “facts and truth” have become a dangerous casualty. We have now become a society where the lines between truth and lies, facts and fiction, and certainty and conjecture have been blurred. “Alternate truth” has become another way of stating anything with which you disagree. If something false is said with conviction, and said often enough, even rational people start believing it. And that damaging noise is amplified by the cacophony of social media and politically motivated cable channels.
Science itself has also come under assault. Over the last few years the federal government has systematically taken on an anti-science posture. This includes linking scientific grants to politics, halting, editing and suppressing scientific studies, sidelining science advisory committees and unleashing anti-science rules and regulations. The long-term impact of this can be profoundly damaging.
Another grave danger has been efforts toward politicizing different elements of the government. A systematic effort played out to politicize the military and move the judiciary from being impartial towards the right. These are usually strategic moves in any dictator’s playbook in other countries. I just did not expect to see this strategy deployed in our nation. This is playing with fire, and we must guard against this.
The shining star in the midst of all this has been us, “We The People.” I saw the outpouring of goodwill and love for our co-workers, neighbors and each other. Religious organizations, community groups and even individuals collected food and essential items and distributed to anyone who needed it. Donations poured in and people stepped up to work the lines. The simple act of reaching out and helping each other provided the much needed sense of calm to our aching souls. These efforts to find creative solutions to deal with the pandemic reflected the keen American spirit of problem solving and together getting things done.
Steel gets stronger and is tempered when heated. Likewise, I am hopeful that we as a nation will use our COVID experience to think about where we are, and how to improve. I am absolutely convinced that we are stronger together than apart. The fomenting of divisiveness we saw was meant to make us weak and serve personal goals. The obfuscation of truth was targeted to make us confused. The stoking of fear and hatred was meant to hide the reality under the veneer of prosperity and patriotism. I am absolutely sure that our collective goodwill, love for our country, and convergence of ideas and actions is a tsunami which can brush aside any challenges facing us as a nation.
Lastly, the COVID lockdowns provided me with time for reflection. My faith in God has been rejuvenated. The COVID challenges reinforced for me how precious life is, how random someone’s fate can be and why empathy is critical. I am much more thankful and grateful for all the blessings in my life. My belief in the common good has been renewed, and I’m certain that the isolationism of divisiveness is no match to the strength of cooperation, respect and understanding amongst us. Simple acts of kindness towards each other can indeed enrich all of our lives and make this world a better place for everyone.
We could never enjoy a rainbow unless we live through the rainstorm, so I’m hopeful that the challenges we all faced will also make each one of us a better person. I hope that we can honor all the people who perished in the pandemic by striving to help each other and try to make our communities, cities, states and our country a better place for everyone.