We will not be the same country when this is over. We can’t be. We shouldn’t be. Right now, the focus is, as it must be, on the immediate crisis at hand. It looms over us with a darkness that stretches forth without a horizon in sight.
These will be sad and scary times. People will suffer, and many will die. It will reach into everyone’s life. For some, the loss will be marked in the passing of friends and loved ones, close and personal. Others might escape such an immediate toll, but the economic pain will be widespread. Here too, it will be uneven, inflicting the greatest cost on the poorest, most vulnerable, and most desperate. It will also strike some industries much deeper than others.
I can’t help but reflect on other moments of hardship, anxiety, and suffering. I was born into the Great Depression, and the images of abject poverty among my neighbors, the hopelessness of job searches, the ache of empty bellies, are etched in my consciousness. So too are memories of the war that soon followed. The very real sense that the world might end with a triumph of evil. The fathers who went off to battle and never returned. The dawning of the atomic era that ended the conflict. In the course of my work, I have seen many other moments like these, where fear and tragedy raged, although most were more localized.
What I have also seen is that from crisis opportunity can emerge. We humans tend not to be good at anticipating problems. We seem to think good times will continue, even as we make decisions that leave ourselves vulnerable. But we are good at fixing things. We are capable of great energy, ingenuity, and that most important quality, empathy.
This nation, and the larger world, long have been broken in ways that have too often gone unaddressed. This is a wake-up call to our economic and healthcare insecurity. It is a reminder of why we must work with other nations to fix global problems. It is evidence that competency and truth-telling in government are paramount for the security of the United States. It is a rallying cry to strengthen the common bonds of our humanity.
We are being tested. In part, it is because we have let ourselves get to this point. That is where we are. We cannot change the past. But we can work our might on the present, and then resolve to fix our weaknesses going forward.
It is easy to blame leadership. They deserve the blame they are getting. But the rot that led to this moment is more systemic. When we emerge from this crisis, and we surely will, we must follow a path of renewal and improvement of how we structure our society, its economy, its health, its social obligations, and its politics. We are seeing the cost of failure. We have no choice but to forge ahead. And forging into a better, more just future, has been the American way. I, for one, continue to believe with all my heart, it will be that way yet again.