Looking back years from now, what will be the cultural icon that is symbolic of the shared spirit that we rallied around to rebuild America after the global coronavirus devastation?
Maybe images of face masks will eventually evoke feelings of national pride at overcoming a deadly scourge like nothing any of us had ever even imagined, let alone stood up to and finally forced into retreat.
We know from lessons learned during the worldwide flu pandemic of 1918 that COVID-19 will one day be beaten and that we will emerge into a brighter future, strengthened from having been so sorely tested. There will be discoveries — certainly now in the making — that will recreate in us a culture that is more resistant to health dangers and more resilient for healing when new challenges inevitably rise up.
Even closer in history and still within the memory of those who lived through World War II is Rosie the Riveter. “We can do it!” proclaimed posters celebrating the determination of the women who took factory and shipyard jobs to replace the men who had gone to war.
These patriots did what they needed to do and were proud to contribute to the cause that united the country, fighting oppressive governments elsewhere so that more people around the world could enjoy the freedoms that defined the United States.
Now we must embrace a similar shared will to safely rev up a sputtering economy and restore the soul of an American psyche that was already battered by political division before COVID-19 stole more than 100,000 lives nationwide in just a few months.
Isn’t it political division, after all, that threatens to linger and infect us even after a proven vaccine finally promises a safe return to what we once took for granted —freedom to live our lives without concern for contagion and, if we’re honest, with scant regard for others?
Just maybe a renewed regard for others will be the elusive remedy that delivers us from the danger now lurking in a stranger’s sneeze as well as from the discord that has weirdly turned wearing a face mask recommended by health professionals into a political lightning rod.
With humility — that sadly rare ability to put ourselves and our desires last in weighing options — we can acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers but are willing to follow rules intended for the greater good of our neighbors, our communities, our nation, even the world.
With respect for others — visibly practiced by keeping a safe distance and wearing face coverings whenever and wherever we’re likely to encounter people outside of our own households — we can keep each other protected from the virus.
With a shared sense of responsibility — accepting that our own actions might affect others negatively or positively — we can commit individually and collectively to rebuilding America as a beacon for the world to follow for peace and prosperity.
As much as we’d like to, and as much as some might want to proclaim it, we cannot simply will this virus to go away and conjure our previous circumstances back into being by fervently wishing their return. We cannot selfishly indulge an entitled mindset and allow weariness of social isolation to carelessly invite subsequent waves of COVID-19 deaths.
But we can muster the will to work better together to create a united front against coronavirus — and to unite against contentious political bickering.
This is not to say all must agree on the preferred course forward, just that there is a way forward if we commit to seeking it together and are willing to compromise and consider the needs of others to reach it.
A healthy dose of civility would be as welcome as the preventive coronavirus vaccine most are desperate to receive. It’s not necessary for us all to embrace different viewpoints, but we can at least concede that others have the right to see the world differently and that we might even learn from other perspectives.
We will rebuild America, and probably stronger than ever, if history is the indicator it usually has been. The sooner we join forces on that shared goal, the better.