We have been riding the wave of the pandemic for a while now. It is hard to think about all the ways life has changed. We grieve the losses of people we cannot physically see any more as a result, and have experienced moments of holding family members closer. At other times, it is hard to know what is best to do. As we greet people, do we hug, offer a fist pump, or wave genteelly?
The pandemic has brought out the best in us. There is a surge of people taking care of their neighbors; doing the little things day by day to make life easier for each other. There is still an awareness we are all in this together. However, Covid-19 has brought out the worst in us, too. School board meetings have sometimes taken on the appearance of wrestling matches where groups shout down one another. Students refuse to wear masks above their noses to comply with local policies, the “I’m going to get mine” mentality prevails at times. People cannot seem to figure out what the greater good is, and society has slowly shifted to an arrogant, hypocritical tone where scientists and politicians cannot agree on which direction to go. There are parts of this struggle which are simply embarrassing to watch.
Yet, since those days in early 2019 when a seemingly small outbreak of a virus in Wuhan caught our attention, people almost assuredly have gained a greater sense of resiliency. Personal facades have been stripped away. Individuals have realized there are simply things which are so needed in life, they fight tooth and nail to keep them.
Thomas Jefferson’s words from the Declaration of Independence apply here. The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness are ongoing. The word Jefferson used for ‘happiness’ really means fulfillment. His argument was governments should help someone rise as far as talent could take them. The great majority of people have not given up on this happiness, and continue to work toward it. Thank goodness we live in a country where we can pursue such happiness.
With happiness can come humor. Even in the midst of myriad struggles, the pandemic has not taken away laughter. Sure, there have been important tears, but humor remains a balm against sorrows.
Athletics and competitions go on. The pandemic did not force the second Olympic shutdown or cancel every sporting event. Moreover, coaches are realizing, perhaps more than ever, how much they need their athletes and how important physical activity is. It is not only good for the body, but also the soul.
The pandemic has not been able to take away the hope and faith individuals possess. Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques altered schedules to make sure parishioners and worshippers could stay connected. Individuals continue to grow closer to their meanings of hope. Pandemics do not discriminate regarding someone’s religion. A virus attacks hosts equally. Many have realized the benefits of having hope even in the midst of excruciating pain and loneliness. Most of us know hope cannot be taken away unless we give up on it.
Covid cannot take away the measure of personal behavior and the responsibilities we share toward one another. Each of us shares the ability to choose how we act. The isolation the pandemic brings at times does not excuse us from carrying out basic manners and kindnesses. It does not provide the excuse to be brutal to each other or to turn inward and not care.
Each of us has a task to overcome evil with good. These last years revealed to us, more than any other recent historical event, our personal pettiness and hypocrisies. Still, it has also forced most of us to look in the mirror and face our own individual willpower. What cannot be taken away is the will to grow and mature and to have our actions mean more. Pandemics cannot take away purpose. Love and compassion endure.
And finally, we must remember to resist any opportunity for people and governments to take away the freedoms we have as citizens in this country. Shortly after the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, a popular columnist wrote to him and suggested he take on dictatorial powers as president in order to combat the depression. He noted the people would largely understand. Thankfully, FDR saw the dangers in this suggestion.
In matters of government, citizens have a duty to obey the laws and comply when necessary, but also to challenge government overreach. Pandemics do not absolve us from vigilant citizenship.
If we allow the pandemic to take away happiness, laughter, hope, faith, civility, respect, responsibility, love, and compassion, we are truly broken indeed. These are things we should daily strive for as a way to simply look this time period in the eye and say “never.”
Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and CCC&TI. He can be reached at email@example.com