What We Can Learn from the Pandemic

While most of our minds and TVs were riveted to election returns, the COVID-19 virus was focused on growth. Lots of growth. We’ve passed the 250,000-deaths mark and we’re still growing. Imagine this: North Dakota has the highest mortality rate in the world, not just the U.S. It now has a healthcare system “rupturing” for lack of healthy healthcare staff and available hospital beds. Who’d have imagined North Dakota would top the chart?

We know how to reduce the crushing burden on healthcare staff and shut down the dying. Stay home. Wash our hands. Cover our faces. Stay six feet apart. Avoid crowds. This should protect me from others, and others from me, because we’re in this thing together, like it or not.

I realized yesterday that I’d been whining about the luxury of isolation. Minimum-wage workers who flip hamburgers, wash dishes and turn patients in elder care facilities — they don’t suffer this luxury. Hard-working people need their wages. They can’t afford to isolate. Since folks earning minimum wage are disproportionately Black, Brown, immigrant and female, so is the pandemic. It’s mostly a plague of those who can’t stay out of the way.

If you choose not to wear a mask, I’ll wear one anyway — to protect myself, but also to protect you. If you take risks with your life, you’re also risking mine and everyone else’s in your congregation or your elevator. If you’re willing to risk bringing the virus home to your elderly mother because you just didn’t care…that’s selfishness at the level of a felony, even if done in imitation of a totally self-centered (almost ex-) president.

Is this who we’ve become as a nation, people unable to genuinely care about those around them? It looks to me that this is a pandemic fueled by selfishness. If I care about you, I’ll be cautious. If I don’t care, God help us both.

It reminds me of the story of General William Booth and his wife suffering through a cold winter in London a century ago. Flu was rampant, and Booth was sick. Famine was following the flu, and funds for General Booth’s Salvation Army charity had completely dried up.

Every holiday season General Booth had sent a telegram of encouragement to his colleagues around the world but this year, he told his wife, “There’s not enough money for a single sentence.” To which she replied, “Then send a single word.”

And so he did. On a cold December eve, a one-word telegram left London for homeless shelters and feeding stations around the world, sent from Booth to those who did his work in the most desperate of circumstances. It was full of encouragement, because it told the entire mission in a word — the same word that has the power to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The word he sent out that night? “Others.”

Amazing what we can learn in a pandemic.

Speaker, artist and author. Activist calling for courage, compassion and integrity. Mom/Grandma. 1st Female White House Advanceman. Keynoted ’92 RNC.