It’s time to buckle down and wear masks, so we can be together at Christmas, he said cheerily. Or, Let’s conquer the invisible enemy so we can see our (children, grandchildren, siblings), she said hopefully. Let’s social distance now so we can be done with this. And so on.
Alas, I fear these expressions of shared solidarity are becoming quaint. Cases are skyrocketing. Deaths, still continuing, albeit at a slightly reduced pace that may or may not hold. Places in the country where COVID is going wild, I fear the tolls that we will see in 3-4 weeks. Businesses are, yes, still stressed.
The single best thing we can do to protect one another is to wear a mask when we encounter people outside our home, outside the ‘pod’ of people we share space and air with. I think of World War II, and of the many and deep sacrifices both abroad and at home. Of Korea and Vietnam, and the bravery of our soldiers, too often unappreciated, especially immediately after Vietnam. Of 9/11, and the rescuers who climbed up the stairwells. The sacrifice and selflessness. Of our soldiers in the long wars abroad in the past two decades. Of our essential workers and especially health care workers, under incredible strain since March.
And yet, here we are: still fighting over wearing masks, the same masks that would help us save one another and get through this faster. As a trained wordsmith, I’m not supposed to be at a loss for words, but I am. If you have any magic mask incantations, we need them pronto.
Saturday was July 4th, odd in so many ways. No organized fireworks. Few organized services, certainly none with crowds. Some protests or rallies, against racism generally and in favor of Black Lives Matter specifically.
But, no parades. No patriotic decorating by children of their bicycles, as happens in Cold Spring every year. No pie-baking contests. So I went looking for a little perspective for our deeply strange time from past national leaders.
In 2013, former President Barack Obama said this, ‘In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.’
And this, from President Harry Truman: ‘America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.’
And from Abraham Lincoln, ‘My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.’
And from Martin Luther King Jr., this: ‘Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’
All leaders with high aspirations. All leaders with a keen sense of realism. All leaders who overcame much. I wonder, what is next for the nation, what will the next few months bring, and what should they bring?
More notably, how can we affect that outcome? How can we spur it toward the best possible, the best path forward and not back, the best route to equity and not division? That is the single biggest challenge we face right now. It will take constancy, and fortitude and some sense of both sacrifice and compromise.
And yes, leadership. It is an urgent time for our nation.
My father was a classic Republican for his time; he died in 1998. He believed in a strong defense, that the deficit should be lower, that we surely didn’t need as much government as we had, and that what we did have needed to be more efficient by a good bit.
1998: To tell you more vividly how long ago that was, people still believed in vaccines, for heaven’s sake. It was so obvious it barely needed explaining. The common good!
Yes, a long time ago, I now realize. Additional note: Years before I was born, my mother’s brother died as a child of tetanus. We can vaccinate for that now. Science. Medicine. It’s generally considered a big advance.
What I’m reading: A couple of stories I’m reading now: Damon Linker’s piece in The Week, July 1, ‘Coronavirus is revealing a shattered country.’ And David Brooks in the New York Times on July 2, who said this crisis of spirit is ‘the national humiliation we need.’ I confess to being conflicted: At times I think our troubles are not that deep. Surely our dynamism of spirit will carry us through, right? And then sometimes, I find myself thinking that it’s grim, with the follow on thought of, how do we recover? Notably, these writers come to similar conclusions from different starting points; one is centerleft politically; the other center-right. And this: We have overcome much before. Big, significant obstacles. Surely, with commitment, we can do so once more.
What I’m listening to: Fresh Air is often superior, and Terry Gross is such a good interviewer. The episode from July 1, ‘The Militarization of Police,’ available as a podcast if you didn’t hear it initially, is quite good.
Until next week.
Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News & Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845-265-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below, the Sybil Ludington statue on the shores of Lake Gleneida on July 4th. She is my favorite patriot. Photo/ Eric Gross