In every movie, television show, or book that I’ve ever read or seen about an apocalypse of any kind, there seems to be no one who can keep the country from completely falling apart. The helpers are neighbors who band together to fight against other neighbors who have given into their own survival instincts, regardless of the pain it will cause their fellow humans. The heroes are those who grab the orphaned child off the the street or who offer some of their rations to the robbed old couple or who grab the shelterless family to prevent their destruction. They are regular people who make the personal decision to step up.
The COVID-19 global pandemic is far from the apocalypse that we have been trained by fiction to expect. Nearly all of the experts are saying that things are going to be bad, but not global collapse bad. We are going to experience the horrific death of many, but it’s not going to wipe out the human race. But it doesn’t matter how bad it is or is going to get, the reality is that between health and the economy, we are all in this together and looking for the helpers who are going to get us to the other side.
Sometimes it takes tragedy for us to see those who are in front of us, for the first time. We know the people are there. We know they serve us in many ways. But we don’t realize their importance until we really need them.
And a lot of us are just now discovering how much we depend on those we don’t generally think about when life continues as normal. But our normal has been disrupted and these are the people who I see getting us through this.
The store employees who are still working
They are stocking shelves and running check-out lines. They are fielding questions and dealing with panic. They are wiping down shopping carts and controlling the number of items that people can add to those carts to ensure that there is enough for everyone. They are enforcing social distancing rules by making sure that people are standing in line six feet apart, there are only a certain number of people in the stores at one time, and working tirelessly to calm down our questionable decision-making.
These men and women have children at home who are out of school, elderly parents who need to stay healthy, and their own health and economic concerns. Most of these individuals, who our society has determined are essential workers, do not have savings or a backup plan if they are suddenly determined to be unessential. These are people many in our country have argued do not deserve to earn a living wage, do not need access to affordable healthcare and childcare, and should not be given paid sick leave. The optimist in me wants to believe that when all this is over we will remember the social cost of not taking care of those who kept us functioning in our own homes, but that question remains to be answered.
Educators who are making the best of a disrupted school year
We were on spring break when it became clear that parts of the country were going to shut down. I returned from a mission trip with my students on Wednesday and by Friday I had notification that the next week of school would be canceled. We were supposed to be back in school and instead I was making plans for putting my students online and my elementary-aged children were home working on their own school work.
All over the country, teachers have been scrambling and coping with a wide range of instructions. School districts have made plans for ensuring that students who depend on school lunches are still going to be fed. Teachers who have access to online tools have been forced into learning new tricks so they can put their classes online to minimize the educational disruption. Others have impatiently waited for instructions from their districts and fought for their less advantaged students to gain access to the tools that they need to finish the school year.
Teachers have done this. We’ve done this while parenting our own children through this. We’ve done this while missing our students. We’ve done this with little to no preparation. Parents and teachers are suddenly forced into a partnership that often can be shaky, at best. As a teacher, I am repeatedly told that we are valuable to society, but more often than not I feel like our country has a funny way of showing it. Again, the optimist in me wants to believe that maybe this will turn that tide.
The nurses, doctors, first responders, and support staff who are fighting for lives
There is constant discussion of healthcare in this country, but it is a conversation that often takes place away from the very people who make up the system. We say we respect and value our first responders but when we are challenged by local officials to raise their pay and guarantee their benefits we balk at the tax increases. We allow hospital personnel to work long hours without breaks and then blame the individuals, not the lack of personnel in the system, for the mistakes.
Medical personnel across the country are working overtime without the proper safety equipment to treat, not only those with COVID-19, but all the other health issues that face us every day. They are literally risking their lives to save the lives of their patients. Doctors and nurses around the world have died from the very illness they are working tirelessly to cure. I have many friends in healthcare who have said they don’t want to be called heroes because they are just doing their job, but I still believe that they are. I hope and pray that we will listen to them when all of this is over as we discuss how to improve the system they have dedicated their lives to.
The local and state government officials who stepped up to make the hard decisions
With little to no guidance from the federal government, some state and local officials across the country have been showing federalism at its best. They canceled major events even though it was going to cost their cities millions of dollars. They have shut down businesses, temporarily closed schools, and told people to stay home. They have found ways to feed the needy and slow the spread in the most crowded areas. They are tracking down the medical supplies their hospitals need and setting up makeshift medical centers. They are leading and setting examples for other cities and states that have been slow to respond.
And they are reminding us just how important it is to have strong leadership at the local level, something I pray many of us remember in November.
They all deserve our thanks.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for us right now, and I have a very strong feeling that it is going to continue to change things for us over the coming months and even years. I don’t think all of those things are necessarily bad changes. And while we are all imperfect people with very short memories, I hope that we remember these people as we put new policies and regulations into place to deal with a new normal.
Because it is our response to adversity that demonstrates our greatness, not what we do when everything is going well.