Let’s Rise to the Challenge of Decency
This column by William Patrick first appeared in the Palestine [Texas] Herald-Press on March 18, 2020. I’m sharing it with the kind permission of Mr. Patrick and the Herald-Press.
Americans have a history of standing together in times of adversity.
On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, recruiters had to turn crowds away. The response was that great.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, firefighters, first-responders, and ordinary people traveled to New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania to lend a hand in rescue and recovery efforts.
We Americans have a history of uniting in times of adversity – when that adversity has a face. COVID-19, a viral disease caused by the Wuhan coronavirus originating in China, has progressed to a pandemic in less than a month.
Friday, President Trump declared a national state of emergency. Reported fatality rates for COVID-19 range from less than 1 percent to 8 percent. People are confused, frightened, and panicked.
With no Axis Power to curse or terrorist regime to vilify, our panic has made every man for himself.
Retail outlets nationwide are running out of hand sanitizer, disinfectant, paper towels, and toilet paper. The Palestine Walmart, which stocks multiple brands of toilet paper, had nothing but bare shelves Friday. Frenzied customers even grabbed bathroom tissue off the pallets. Online entrepreneurs started hawking $2 bottles of disinfectant for $30. Hydrogen peroxide, typically under a buck, is going for $10 or more.
We Americans weren’t always like this.
My father told stories of growing up during the Great Depression and World War II. He’d talk about victory gardens, where people grew fresh produce for the community; he’d tell us about the rationing of basic items like sugar, butter, and gasoline. It was for the war. It was for our troops overseas. It was our duty.
Never did he speak of fistfights for toilet paper, or price-gouging for hand-wash. In his stories, Americans stood united.
The difference, I believe, is the evil in his stories had a face; it had an identity. Daddy wasn’t home, because he was overseas fighting the “bad guys.”
Today, social media spreads information and misinformation instantly across the globe. That goes double for panic. When my parents were kids, “social media” was water-cooler conversation and back-fence gossip. Now, without an identifiable enemy or reliable information, panic and hoarding have become the new normal. We want ours – never mind the elderly and infirm who may need the same.
Sure, times are scary. I have two toddler boys who attend daycare; my wife is an “at risk” cancer survivor. I’ve worried incessantly since this mess began.
But despite our fears, we must remain decent.
I want to tell my children how the community banded together during a troubled time; how we took care of one another, because that’s what neighbors do.
Today, I saw a social media post that offered aid to children without food while school is out. A local grass-roots organization, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors,” attracted more than 40 community volunteers who check on elderly and infirm neighbors.
These efforts, and the people behind them, set the bar for how we should all behave. In this pandemic panic, we have an opportunity to show the world, and ourselves, just how decent and caring Americans can be.
Like our grandparents, let’s rise to the challenge.
As near as I can figure, an inspiring piece like this is a breath of fresh air that can blow away some of our fear and ground us in a determination to do what’s right.
Thanks for reading,