When it became clear that COVID-19 was going to disrupt our world for more than two weeks, I started reading Erik Larson’s book entitled The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. The introduction established the context for the German Blitzkrieg on London by explaining that what the British experienced was the equivalent to what Americans experienced on 9/11, but for 90 days in a row. Given this stunning analogy, we have to marvel that England didn’t become a colony of Nazi Germany.
Why this book became a runaway national bestseller seems obvious. What could we learn from the British about resilience, resolve, and hope in the face of fear that we can’t calibrate, and uncertainty for which there is no precedent? What I have observed and learned personally during this COVID Era has been a little different from what Larson drew from Winston Churchill.
WHAT WE HAVE
There were no vaccines, anti-viral drugs, antibiotics or public health surveillance systems during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 that killed 50 million people worldwide. Similarly, there were no such things as ventilators, ICUs, or infectious disease specialists. We are blessed to have all of those in place or on the way for COVID-19. But we have more than that. We have brilliant and dedicated scientists, caregivers and professionals working tirelessly and selflessly. We have the technology to identify and trace and track the risk of COVID instead of just the incidence. And we have the channels to inform and mobilize people in minutes wherever they are. For these things I am thankful.
WHAT WE DO
After about a month of feeling trapped in my home, and talking into a computer screen, I realized that I was neither alone nor special, and that gave me great comfort. Every day, I was able to say hello to my colleagues and our customers and focus together on a normalcy that COVID could not take away from us: A shared effort to keep people safe when the pursuit of safety became its own global pandemic. It is a gift to know about safety at a time when people covet it. It is a gift to understand the nature of risk and how to evaluate it and make personal and professional decisions based on our tolerance of it—and to share that with others. We are fortunate to know what we know and be doing the work we do. For that I am thankful.
WHAT WE LEARN
There is a famous photo of a mother wheeling her newborn across the street in a stroller amidst relentless gunfire in a warring city in the Middle East. The woman in the picture is said to have described her apparent disconnect from reality as her resolve to feel normalcy in her life. Sane or insane, it speaks to the thirst humans have for stability and comfort. Wrong or right, she was claiming her new normal.
Our new, or at least temporary, normal for our work has required adapting to our inability to freely travel, meet, shake hands, and experience the world fearlessly and in a three-dimensional way. This has made life feel very small. But in this smallness, we have discovered or learned how to focus, keep it simple, enjoy the quiet, and prioritize our time. We have learned how to adapt and that we are tougher than we thought. For this I am thankful.
When I or people I care about succumb to the relentless newsfeed on COVID, American politics, global warming, racial and social unrest, and other reasons to feel sad and hopeless, I remind myself that we humans have been endowed with an intellect, a soul, a conscience, a spirit, and the freedom to remedy these ills. The fact that they are smothering us at the same time stinks. We all feel like Job from the Old Testament at the same time.
For me, the spark or shine I need for my day to go from black-and-white to color has come from listening to and talking with family, friends, colleagues and even strangers who remind me that people and relationships are our greatest comfort and our greatest hope. Above all else, I am thankful for each other.
WHAT ARE YOUR REFLECTIONS?
As you reflect on life, what are you thankful for? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Have an especially meaningful Thanksgiving!