Updated: Apr 14, 2020
I remember very clearly what the weeks and months immediately following 9/11/2001 were like. That tragedy and the nation’s response to it will be looked at for decades as an example of just how vulnerable we as a society are but more so how resilient we are capable of being. We lost thousands of people that day in an attack carried out over minutes and with an impact lasting years. You didn’t need to be near New York, D.C. or Pennsylvania to have a personal connection to the tragedy. Empathy for those most impacted wasn’t limited to Americans in certain geographic locations. While the tragedy of the event is rightfully measured in lives lost and the impact of those losses on others, much of the American story of 9/11 is also in the recovery effort. In my lifetime I’ve never seen a better example of people coming together in solidarity. We as a nation, for a brief time at least, erased every line that divides us in society. In the days that followed 9/11 I remember how different people were to one another. Everyone was friendly. People were scared but still wanted to help in any way they could. Supply drives were carried out in every community within driving distance of New York city. Donations poured in to fire stations. The public rallied together behind our country’s flag in support of the recovery effort. We were one big American family for several months. Some of our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins needed us and like a family we did the best we could to support them. The magnitude of the tragedy was profound and we answered with an equally profound response.
Looking back over the last 20 years there are plenty of examples of tragedy and adversity being answered with solidarity and resolve from our communities. Our country has seen numerous acts of targeted violence that have resulted in great losses of life and have had substantial local and national impact. We’ve seen catastrophic wildfires and have navigated through outbreaks of a variety of illnesses that have taken 100’s if not 1,000’s of lives. What we see time and again is that during any time of great tragedy or adversity we answer whatever force is pushing on us with a greater force pushing back. As a society we don’t fail to beat back and overcome whatever it is that is attacking us. We do this through a coordination of public and private efforts bolstered by grass roots initiatives driven by citizens who really want to be a part of the solution. The end result is that recovery is faster when everyone in a community has an opportunity to contribute to the effort.
We are now deep into a time of adversity that is unlike anything most of us has ever experienced. Over the past month the trajectory of our daily lives has been incrementally shifting. We aren’t getting the kids off to school in the morning and heading off to work. We aren’t participating in sports or social events, going out with friends and family or even just “grabbing a couple of things” at the store on the way home. Daily we are faced with new challenges around employment, daycare, the availability of household essentials and our need to connect with people. There is plenty of doom and gloom in the media and in all of the emails we’re receiving hourly about the COVID crisis. We are all inundated with information, some good and some not so good, about this crisis. What I’d like to draw attention to for a few moments is the positive community response that I believe defines who we really are.
With the kids out of school for a couple of weeks now and the likelihood of schools remaining closed for an extended period of time there has been a super-human effort to rapidly move education online. This is impressive at the college level, but there’s already a well-established road map for online education for that demographic. For elementary and middle-school kids this is mostly entirely new territory. Teachers and administrators have pivoted to literally move their entire delivery to an online or otherwise non-traditional platform in next to no time. If we had planned to close all the schools next year and demanded that education be delivered in the home through the internet, most school systems would have taken months hammering out the details, vetting software and debating video vs email vs conference call. I’m amazed not only by what these people have gotten done out of necessity in a week, but also at the creativity, resourcefulness and love being shown by our educators for their kids in how they are embracing this transition. It’s nothing short of amazing.
There is an enormous shortage of protective equipment for medical personnel right now. Hospitals have gotten so desperate for basic masks that they’ve put out requests to the community for sewn cotton masks for their people. The requests on social media are being answered by countless groups of people sewing masks in their homes and delivering them to healthcare facilities. Companies in industries other than healthcare that use masks are donating what they have to medical providers. Some manufacturers are even moving from what they usually produce to making protective equipment temporarily. In addition to protective equipment, restaurants are supporting medical facilities with food deliveries as well.
Lots of people are out of work right now. People living paycheck to paycheck are suddenly finding themselves in a real crisis, maybe experiencing food insecurity or the inability to pay their basic living expenses due to loss of employment. Again, communities are stepping up to fill what is hopefully a short term gap for people experiencing financial hardship due to this pandemic. Social media is seeing new community groups set up for the purpose of supporting one another. People are donating to relief funds. There are food drives. Recently I saw a request for dog food made by someone who will be without means to pay for it for at least two weeks, answered by no less than 5 people in 10 minutes. Examples of people helping one another are abundant.
During this difficult time people are adapting. Essential services are being delivered and those delivering them are seeing the appreciation of their communities for doing so. We are finding new and innovative ways to communicate and to get things done. People are staying connected through technology and we are realigning our daily priorities back to a focus on family and community well-being. There is a lot of anxiety for sure right now. I’m certainly not detracting from the fact that people are anxious and scared. In spite of that though, we are all coming together and facing this current challenge head on.
What lies ahead for us in the coming weeks and months is still a bit uncertain. We may lose people we know. We may suffer economic losses that are difficult to rebound from. While it’s difficult to accurately anticipate just how long this pandemic will require such dramatic changes from our normal routines, what is more predictable is that we will rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done to get through this. Our communities will pull together. We will again look beyond the lines that divide us and instead see only how we are connected. We will care for the sick and support those caring for them. We will partner with and cheer on the educators. We will rally behind those who are struggling for any reason during this time and we will all get through it together. This is what we as an American society have done in answer to every major challenge of the past and it is what we will do now and every other time in the future. During this time of crisis we are all helpers and we are all family. We will get through this and we will be stronger and more resilient for it. In 20 years from now I know we will look back at this time, no matter how bad it gets, and see that we answered this force against us with an even stronger force made of determined citizens coming together for one another.