Did you watch the “Graduate Together: High School Class of 2020 Commencement” broadcast?
If you didn’t, you missed some inspiring moments. If you did, I hope you received some messages of hope and empowerment – I know I did!
Some of those messages are worth repeating because their relevance extends beyond the targeted audience of 2020 high school graduates to each of us.
LeBron James, philanthropist and NBA great, challenged students to recommit themselves to their communities, saying “building your community changes the world.”
Hmmm … I wonder what our world would look like if we worked together to rebuild our communities for the common good?
Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize laureate and Pakistani activist, declared that “The class of 2020 won’t be defined by what we lost to this virus but by how we responded to it.”
Hmmm … I wonder what our world will look like when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic?
President Barack Obama offered three pieces of advice: Don’t be afraid. Do what you think is right. Build a community. He encouraged students to “… be alive to one another’s struggles. Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us — sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed — and set the world on a different path.”
Hmmm … I wonder what our world would look like if we were alive to each other’s struggle, if we stood up for the rights of others, if we left behind divisive ways?
What are you willing to do to set the world on a different path?
As we move forward, into the future, we all have the power to effect positive change. Each one of us can make a difference. Together we can change the world!
Amid our global pandemic, some of our heroes last week petitioned for help, just yards away from the White House.
Did you hear their plea for protection?
Clad in red shirts and wearing face masks, union members of National Nurses United stood among 88 pairs of white rubber clogs, each pair representing a nurse who died while fighting the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. To honor their fallen colleagues, they read the names of the dead out loud.
A registered nurse from Washington, D.C. was quoted as saying: “We ask you to imagine the nurse who would have walked in these shoes …Know that these shoes stand for someone who woke up in the morning—or maybe in the afternoon or the middle of the night—who pulled on their scrubs, kissed their children or other loved ones goodbye and headed to work, knowing they were walking into danger.”
Today — one day before the end of National Nurses Week — the number of nurses lost has increased and that is not okay with me.
What is disturbing is that nurses are dying because they are continuing to treat coronavirus patients without proper protective equipment. Even more disconcerting is that nurses are being asked to make troublesome (sometimes deadly) compromises like reusing single-use face masks and gowns, sharing a mask with other personnel, and being in close contact with asymptomatic/untested patients without a mask. And perhaps the most sinister of all, is the relaxing of CDC guidance that shifted from N95 masks being the acceptable standard of protective gear for medical personnel and patients to the sanctioning of commercial grade masks, surgical masks and homemade masks (to counter the dwindling supply of protective resources, with no evidence that they provide any significant protection from the virus).
This is a systemic failure!
I have an abundance of respect and admiration for nurses who have answered the call to provide compassionate and competent care to the sick, injured and wounded. It is unconscionable to ask, let alone expect, these warriors to go into battle against this pandemic without the proper support, equipment, and protection. To complicate things, we not only ask them to sacrifice themselves but their families and loved ones who they return home to.
While our praise and recognition for their efforts are nice, they are not sufficient.
I have been trying to remain optimistic during this pandemic.
But this past week, I have struggled to maintain a positive outlook.
Many things have contributed to my strife – the politicization of the health crisis; the delayed delivery of the $8 billion in direct emergency relief from the CARES Act to Native nations, which are among the hardest hit by COVID-19; families unable to keep food on their tables and a roof over their heads; and the armed militia that stormed the statehouse in Michigan to “protest” against the governor’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order (even though nearly 80 percent of Michiganders support continuing the stay-at-home order) .
These militia people, once again, highlighted the fact that different Americans have different First Amendment rights – I will not state the obvious about the outcome of this scenario, if the people in the armed mob had more melanin in their skin.
From my vantage point, it is clear that no stay-at-home order was keeping any of these people at home. These are the same people who claim “Blue Lives Matter”, yet yell (unmasked) directly into the faces of masked law enforcement officers. There actions and rhetoric indicate that “No Lives Matter.”
Downplaying the lethal impact of the virus with messages like “Freedom isn’t free” and “I want my job back” these people apparently had the freedom to show up at the statehouse and ignore the CDC’s recommendations to cover your face and maintain physical distancing. They also had the freedom to defy logic (at last count, there were nearly 70,000 deaths in the United States and nearly a quarter million worldwide and the United States had nearly 1.2 million of the 3.5 million confirmed cases worldwide).
This “protest” was clearly about power, plain and simple. This was not a peaceful demonstration. It was about intimidation – for what other reason would “protesters” need to wear body armor and carry assault rifles?
I want to know if Americans of good will – particularly, my brothers and sisters with less melanin — are going to allow this small group of (gun-toting, “the government is not going to tell me what to do”) people to have the last say?
My hope is that the majority will not be silent and will operate out of an understanding that “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose, they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress” (the words of Martin Luther King Jr.).
And to those who are dividing us into two pandemic camps – one that sees COVID-19 as a health crisis and one that sees it as an economic crisis – I say it is BOTH … AND (lest we forget that many Americans were in economic crisis before the coronavirus, most because of economic injustices).
Any plan to move forward MUST protect us from health risks and provide Americans with the economic means to survive without hardship.
These are trying times, but we are stronger together.
(Oh, don’t worry about my struggle to remain positive, I’m a resilient optimist– I bend but don’t break and use adversity/strife as a compass. I believe adversity can guide us to our vision, our voice, our calling, if we learn to suffer well).
It has been six weeks since Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued the “stay at home order,” which coincided with my daughter’s diagnosis as a “suspected” case of the coronavirus.
A week into her bout with illness, I caught her “suspected” case. We remained in quarantine for the requisite 14 days. My husband is working from home, but both daughters have been furloughed from their jobs. My job, as a florist assistant and delivery driver, awaits me once we’re given the all clear. I won’t say sheltering in place has been easy, but it hasn’t been that difficult.
Whatever we had — corona or not — we weathered it well, with no lasting effects. And during our quarantine, when we could not leave the house, family, friends, and neighbors let us know they were just a phone call away. In fact, when we got dangerously low on TP, my aunt and uncle drove over and left a pack on our front porch. All of this felt a lot like love.
To be clear, I understand that some people are suffering financially during this crisis. I get it. I understand the disappointment of students missing out on proms and graduations. I get it. What I don’t understand is the people who want to flout all caution; who carry guns to statehouses to demand it is their right to expose themselves to this virus if they so choose. Yes, they might survive the virus, but they might carry it to someone who won’t. This I most certainly do not get.
With all this as a backdrop, my mind keeps going to the stories of two people who were teenagers in the 40s. You probably have heard of both of them: Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel, both Jewish.
Their stories, while horrifying, give me both hope and courage for this current crisis.
Frank, her sister and parents, and four others spent two years in hiding in a secret annex in her father’s business. The Franks were captured and Anne died of typhus in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp just weeks before the Allied liberation. She was 15 and missed more than prom night. And yet, in the diary she kept while in hiding, she wrote: “…in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” This, from a child who knew she was hiding from people who literally wanted to kill her.
Elie Wiesel was 15 when he and his father were seized by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, and then marched to Buchenwald. Wiesel survived the holocaust and wrote “Night,” a deeply personal and candid recollection of his horror in the camps. One story has stayed with me, and while it haunts me, it gives me hope and courage. During the winter march, the prisoners dropped and died from the cold. Arriving at the next camp, the men were crowded into a single barrack, “where the dead were piled on top of the living.” It was then Wiesel heard the violin. It was Juliek, a boy who played in the Buna Orchestra in Warsaw. Wiesel wrote: “Never before had I heard such a beautiful sound. In such silence. …it was as if Juliek’s soul had become his bow. He was playing his life…his unfulfilled hopes. His charred past. His unfulfilled future. He played that which he would never play again.” Wiesel fell asleep to that sound. When he woke, Juliek was facing him, dead, with his trampled violin next to him.
If a young boy, in the midst of the most terrifying chapter of his life, and our history, had the courage to create, then I can find the courage to face anything.
I will close by sharing this poem, written by retired U.S. teacher Kitty O’Meara on March 16, 2020.
And the people stayed HOME. And read books, and listened, and rested, And exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced, some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, he earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images. and created new ways to live and heal the earthy fully, as they had been HEALED.
What will our lives look like when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic?
That question keeps resurfacing in my mind, particularly when I hear people say things like we will return to “normal” – whatever that means. I think “normal” is different for different people.
But I digress.
My hope is that we will emerge better than before. My hope is that we will have more compassion for each other.
My hope is that we will lose the superiority complex that causes us to judge people based on job titles or earnings. My hope is that we will have the wisdom to embrace one humanity and recognize our interdependence on each other.
My hope is that we will have discovered reservoirs of power and resilience to address critical global challenges, including economic injustices, disparities in access to quality healthcare, peace and nonviolence, and the climate crisis.
It has been reported that in China (where pollution is believed to cause as many as 1.6 million premature deaths annually) the reduction in pollution caused by the COVID-19 lockdown may have saved 50,000 lives.
Could it be that our concept of commuting and polluting needs to change, at least in part? Could it be that we need to re-evaluate our travel patterns and the effectiveness of things like working remotely, online education, limiting air travel, carpooling, public transportation, smart energy, and alternative fuels?
Could it be that we can create a peaceful environment, free of violence and war?
Could it be that we can implement a plan that provides quality healthcare for everyone?
Could it be that we can stop treating “essential” workers as if they are expendable and provide a living wage to all workers that will eliminate poverty?
Through our response to the threat posed by this pandemic, we have demonstrated that it is possible to rapidly and drastically transform our systems and societies.
It is possible to carry our “new awareness” beyond this current emergency.
We can change our behavior —why not change it for the better, for the common good?