In Focus in 2020
Updated: Apr 8
Twenty twenty sounds as though it ought to be a year when things come into focus, when things become clear. And yet here we are with impossible options and an invisible enemy we don't understand well, one that won't negotiate, one we can't bribe or threaten. Our future is uncertain, but we know the world will be different than the one of 2019.
On the Job
It becomes clear to us that there are people who we count on to make our lives work, people on whom we depend every day. It becomes clear that farmers and other producers, truckers and grocers, trash collectors, and all those who perform the most basic of functions are real heroes in our world. No matter the emergency, firefighters, EMTs, and doctors and other medical professionals go to work. In a medical emergency, such as our current pandemic, some medical professionals work double shifts under sub-optimal conditions. Their work has rewards, but it is grueling and emotionally draining. Scientists work to find cures and treatments for something that had no name just months ago. The work of medical professionals and scientists is work only they are trained to do. While many of us can only stay home and root for them, they are on the front lines of our war on on a microscopic enemy, and they are working against the clock.
Leaders in government look at policy prescriptions and make excruciating judgments, and business leaders and others fill their roles. An automobile manufacture makes ventilators. Clothing manufacturers make hospital gowns. A distillery makes hand sanitizer. Businesses and organizations have looked for ways to support the effort, voluntarily cancelling events and putting in place new policies to avoid spread of germs. They are making adjustments and finding ways to use modern communications, adapting business or operational models. We find heroes in the ranks of those who step up because the mantle of leadership falls to them or because they have resources they can put to use.
Part of a Cause
All over, there are people calling and checking on elderly neighbors or those in vulnerable populations, offering help. People are reaching out to those who are alone. Neighbors keep their distance while walking the dog or playing in the yard with the children, but they wave at others who venture out of the house to take a walk, sit on the porch, or just get the mail. I saw one group of a few neighbors, each strategically positioned six feet from the others, talking in a yard, finding the way to keep distance but still talk for a few minutes. People are keeping in touch, teachers setting up online lessons for students, organizations setting up online groups, and churches having online services and support groups. Those who make things better, even for one person, contribute to the cause of a nation and a world getting through a crises.
For many of us, as others fight on the front lines of our war, our role is to stay home, to go out only when necessary, and to cooperate with the guidelines and laws where we live. That's all, and it is our duty to our fellow men, whether or not we see the measures in force or recommended as reasonable or the best course possible. Our job is to stay put and take reasonable precautions. It matters, because our efforts collectively make a difference. We can buy time for scientists and doctors and leaders to figure out how to fight back and what to do next.
Emergencies bring out the best in humans but also the less admirable or wise side of human nature. Sadly, the worst includes those who create shortages by buying stores' entire inventories of needed items, sometimes in hopes of resell or filling a cart with one item in short supply to take home, leaving no supplies for other shoppers. We see photos or videos of people partying at beaches, packing streets or churches, or bizarrely, licking doorknobs or coughing on store produce. We see politicians add non-related spending and requirements for pet goals or projects into bills for relief of losses caused by shutting down of commerce. One twenty-one year-old, filmed days earlier flaunting pleas to stay home, from her hospital bed later made her own pleas for all to enlist in the effort to keep the population safe.
We enjoy the arts in our homes or through electronic marvels. But we miss those things in our communities that aren't "essential," realizing how important they are, even if they are things we have to put on hold to accomplish our urgent goals. Man creates, because we are born to do so. We need art and music and dance and literature and theater. John Adams said, "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." We long for the day when again orchestras play, the curtain rises on plays and performances, and the libraries now closed, open their doors. In diverse societies throughout time, humans have made music, song, and dance and told stories. This is almost as basic to human existence air and water and food. Through the arts, we share beauty, emotion, and ideas. From their balconies, quarantined Italians sing out in a show of love, solidarity, and encouragement to one another. One day, we will be able to meet together in auditoriums and concert halls again and enjoy the magic of the arts together again. We miss parades and parties and community events and athletic competitions. They aren't essential to breath any more than the arts, but are essential to the fullest lives we can live. They connect us to one another. We want to once again see the shops and cafes and little businesses now closed thrive. They aren't essential to fighting disease and getting through a crisis but are at the heart of America. They represent the American spirit and drive. We were meant to sing and dance, to create, to explore, to travel, to join with others of our kind. In twenty twenty, we see that clearly. We see clearly that we need human touch and human interaction. We need each other. We need to do things together. We'll engage in the fight imposed on us and do it together, so we can one day again do the rest of the things we were meant to do together, things that are essential.