Nothing about the current COVID-19 pandemic is rosy, but it gives some of us more time for reflection. In my case, being retired, that’s also not that great, since reflection invariably leads to considering my part in the mess we’ve created. Folks around my age got to grow up in what could arguably be called the heyday of the American experience. A post-war economy was just revving up, cranking out all the conveniences a modern family could want, and many we didn’t even know we needed until TV advertisements assured us that everyone on our street would have them. A “healthy” middle class arose in that consumer-driven era that defined to much of the world what America meant. We were the envy of the planet, or so we were told. Today, we are among those around the world sorting out life in the midst of a pandemic that has touched virtually every human on the Big Blue Marble, some in the most tragic of ways, others as little more than an inconvenience.
This is a dress rehearsal, a time to figure out what is really important, but also a time to set a new course toward a sustainable future with a renewed (or cathartic) realization that we are all interconnected, that independence is a myth. We’ve been given insight into the weaknesses, the failures of our current systems and infrastructure, and also into the heroics of those who see beyond their own comfort and, in many cases, their own well-being. In stark terms, we have been shown who are, indeed, the essential members of our society. They are the ones who are often the least appreciated or compensated, yet the ones who are keeping daily life moving, caring for the sick, maintaining the cities, stocking grocery shelves, finding ways to educate a population in isolation, or sharing their art to bring beauty and song to a depressed world. They are also public servants, many of whom demonized by an ideology that hawks the talking point that “government is the problem.” Bad government is a problem, good government protects and serves. Good government gathers the best minds to learn from past mistakes and forge a better path. Perfection is a goal, not a condition. “To form a more perfect Union” calls for continuous improvement, not stagnation in the “good old days.” The condition in which we find ourselves is a global call to action, with the rare opportunity to slow down long enough to reflect on what might save us from ourselves.