“This is no ordinary time,” said Eleanor Roosevelt in a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1940. Eighty years later I find myself listening to my governor speak those same words in an afternoon press conference. Twice in my life I’ve felt a disruption so great that it leaves me with a deep sense of uneasiness and uncertainty. A series of events that cause me to stop what I’m doing, forget about my day-to-day activities, and pay attention to what is happening all around me and to everyone else around the world. That first time was 9-11. The second time is right now.
Over the last 7 days, undoubtedly the longest week I’ve experienced in recent memory, I’ve been overwhelmed with the events unfolding right in front of me and around the world. From the fear and anxiety of dealing with the worst global pandemic in over 100 years, to the delight of hearing stories of extraordinary acts of kindness and heroism, to the extreme measures that many of us are being asked or ordered to take in order to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this deadly virus. It’s a lot to take in and it can be quite paralyzing.
A week ago I was out with friends celebrating St. Patrick’s day and less than 24 hours later, restaurants and bars were ordered to close their doors to dine-in customers. Social distancing, self isolation, quarantine. These are terms that we’ve all become intimately familiar with over the last couple weeks. What surprises me the most is how difficult it is to do what I know is absolutely, hands-down, the right thing to do. Sure, I’ve been avoiding large gatherings, and trying to limit my interactions with others, but today on that same press conference the question was asked, “have you done everything within your power?” Have I done everything in my power to protect the public? To slow down this virus? The answer is no, I have not. Perhaps this is a testament to the strength of my friendships? Maybe I am just more extroverted than I thought? We can talk all day about how the flu has killed more people. Or about how this is not a threat to young, healthy Americans that just want to continue living their normal everyday lives. But the reality is that we are facing a threat like nothing we have seen before. An invisible enemy, and while it may not be the most lethal thing that we have encountered, it spreads like wildfire.
Over the last several days, I have read articles written by experts. I’ve listened to scientists and epidemiologists from all over the world that have dedicated their lives to studying the spread of infectious diseases and the preventative measures needed to stop them. I trust what they have to say. I believe them. And when they are desperately urging me to stay home, to distance myself from others, to take every possible measure to avoid any non-essential contact, I’m going to do it. It’s not about myself or my friends. It’s about those that are at higher risk, and I’d be willing to bet that we all know at least one person in that category. If you’re providing essential goods or services, please continue to do that, and know that you are among so many unsung heroes in this crisis. If you absolutely need to spend time with someone else, whether it be for their health or your own, do what you need to do. But otherwise, please heed the advice of our medical experts and stay home. This is what I intend to do going forward to the absolute extent of my ability, and I’m disappointed that it took me this long to make that decision. I know it’s the right decision. I know it’s 100% worth it if I can curb the spread enough to save even one life.
Like all things, there is an end to this. It’s scary because it’s unknown how soon that end will come, and what the path will look like to get there. So many of our lives have been turned upside down, whether it be financially, socially, personally or something else. We will adapt and overcome because that is what we do. Look for the silver linings. Do what you can to help those in need. Take care of your family, your friends, your neighbors, or those that just need a helping hand. Tip your service workers well if you can afford it. Be kind and compassionate to those around you and assume that they may be going through an even harder time than yourself. Listen. Listen to subject matter experts, scientists, and medical professionals. Do research, get second opinions, and for the love of God, don’t believe everything you see or read without doing some fact checking first.
And if nothing else, please take this seriously. Don’t panic, but know that some amount of fear and caution are absolutely necessary. In fact, if you don’t allow for these things, then it is easy for panic to ensue. There will be another day for your concert, your sporting event, that half marathon that you’ve signed up for after dedicating months of training and preparation. Those are all wonderful experiences that bring us joy and add value to our lives, but it will be the way in which we handle this crisis that will be far more memorable. The lessons we learn, the moments of unity, compassion, and care for each other will shape us into a better civilization, but only if we allow it to do so. Be safe, be smart, be well, and perhaps we’ll all come out a little better on the other side.