My father was a doctor. But I should say, “is” a doctor. Because even though he is 96 years old, he still feels that call to help. My siblings and I are not letting him leave the house, of course—and that takes some doing, because he has the habit of a lifetime responding to disasters and disease.
Reading the news about Covid-19 in hospitals, I am struck over and over again by the profound, essential, life-altering character of those who become health workers. Whether doctors, nurses, aides, caregivers, psychotherapists in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, drive-through test sites — wherever, people are putting their own safety, even their own lives, on the line to help those of us who are suffering. To help us get well.
Health workers answer to a higher calling. I feel safe in saying that they are superhuman. They are doing, and have been doing, their work every single day, tirelessly, in hospitals around the world, for years. We don’t really spend time thinking about them, unless we are sick, or married to them, being raised by them, or mothering them.
And now, they are the front line. We, as a country, are thinking about them, turning to them, relying on them, every single day, whether we are sick, or anxious, or simply listening to their recommendations and information in news announcements.
When I was a child, walking in town or at church with my father, I was amazed when people would stop us to thank him for saving the life of a husband, the life of a daughter. He seemed to be some sort of angelic creature to them — and of course, to my child’s eyes and heart, to me as well.
To get up every day, to struggle to understand the dynamics — medical, social, psychological, economic — at play around the terrible disease afflicting us all at once today, to do the best to care for the sick and dying, not to mention to care for their own families. Well, it is almost miraculous that we have such people among us.
There will be time, in the near future, to discuss deeply how important it is for a country, a society, to stay on top of science, to have the best data, to make the most durable plans, to meet challenges head on rather than deny or dither as problems worsen.
There will be time for us to express our outrage that, even as we are struggling through a global disaster, this administration is pushing forward on its ruthless deregulatory agenda, its reckless attacks on the very health protections that keep us safer.
There will be time to learn from what is happening and, we certainly hope, to become a better, stronger country that shows more care and compassion for future generations. But for right now, let’s pause for a moment, to reflect on those among us who show us how to be the best people we can possibly be.
There will be time to prove that we do not need to choose between a strong economy and strong health protections — we have had both over decades and will again.