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Coronavirus pandemic will show exactly what we’re made of

by | Mar 13, 2020 | Detroit Free Press, Comment, News | 4 comments

It is a human wildfire and each of us feels like a dry leaf, praying the wind blows in the other direction. The flames of this COVID-19 virus are ripping through every institution we have in America, schools, sports, businesses, religious services. Many have never felt so vulnerable. We are tucking into our lives, wary of gatherings, wary of neighbors, wary of things that were just, what — two weeks ago? — symbols of our human spirit: handshakes, high-fives, hugs, kisses.

But there are ways to deal with this, ways to cope with this New World Disorder. And the first is to minimize panic, to remember that, for most of us, the worst outcome is flu-like symptoms for a couple of weeks. When you think of it that way, you wonder why society feels like it’s come off its wheels.

Perhaps because the problem, at least in this country, is not merely the virus, but how it is changing our sense of time and place. How long? Every question comes back to that. How long before it reaches our town? How long should we keep sending our kids to school? How long do we quarantine? How long until the critical point is past? How long will the stock market keep diving? How long before our relatives can visit from Europe?

How long until … a vaccine?

It is time — and the speed with which this virus is tumbling institutions — that has jolted us so thoroughly from the idyllic days of January, when our biggest worry was who’s going to shovel the snow. Since then, life feels like one of those films where a giant is plowing through the city, knocking over small cars and massive skyscrapers with the same indifference. Every day another big thing is erased.

Concerts canceled. Spring breaks canceled. Universities going strictly online. Games without fans. Debates without audiences. Then the NBA. Then the NHL. Then March Madness. Tom Izzo had to tell his promising Spartans team Thursday that instead of heading for the best month of the year, their season was done.

“I felt so bad for my seniors — especially Cassius (Winston),” Izzo told ESPN. Winston had come back to MSU for one more crack at a national championship, then tragically lost his brother at the start of the season. He regrouped and somehow led his team to a share of the Big Ten title — and now this. College career over. No more games.

Just like that.

Our nation, united?

But everything is happening that way, isn’t it? Just like that? Europeans can’t fly here. Just like that. Work tells you not to come in. Just like that. The stock market gave back all its gains for the last two years. Just like that. Every social gathering from the PTA to Coachella has been removed from the calendar. Just like that.

It’s like watching the lights go out in a major city, one grid at a time. So quickly, vibrant turns to silent.

This is not who we are in America. We don’t live in the dark. Which is why, more than many countries, we will have a harder time with COVID-19. It’s because of how good we have it and how freely we move.

We are not China, which can lock down entire regions at will, crush any media it doesn’t like, and move scores of workers to build a hospital in a week.

We don’t operate like that. We do things by consensus. The national mood matters. Which is why American resolve will be under the microscope the next few months, and we will be greatly tested by how we behave.

Will we turn on one another? Take a “better him than me’’ approach? Hoard our supplies? Distrust anyone we don’t know?

Or will we sacrifice? Will we think about what it means to actually be one country, not two, not a left vs. right, or sick vs. healthy? But one nation, united against a wildfire.

Can we do that?

Everything can be shut down

We’ll see. There are, to me, certain hard truths we must accept — or should have already accepted — to be levelheaded about where this will all go.

First, everything can be shut down. And most of it will be. Disneyland. Broadway. The Supreme Court Building. Landmarks, big and small. And they should be shut down. Not because we are scared, but because we are smart.

Those people in the sports world who pondered, “How bad will it have to get for us to suspend (whatever)?” were asking the wrong question. The question should have been, “How much better can we make things by shutting it down now?”

You don’t wait, as the NBA learned, until you find out a player is infected. You close the tent before the infections can start. The old adage of an ounce of prevention and a pound of cure is particularly true right now. We shouldn’t be hanging onto spring traditions hoping not to lose them too fast. We should be wrapping them in blankets quickly, so that summer and fall are not affected.

So, yes, of course the NCAA tournament and the NBA season and the NHL season needed to be shut down. You’re talking 20,000, 40,0000, 60,0000 people in one place. Doctors suggest avoiding groups bigger than 100.

Baseball will follow suit, I imagine, and cancel at least the start of its regular season (it already postponed it). And it’s hard to see how they will conduct the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which should and will likely be postponed.

But sports are hardly unique. Cruise ships. Airplane trips. Theme parks. Concert venues. Who knows? Shopping malls, health clubs, and all public schools may be next on the list.

But if it that happens, don’t be depressed. Know that it is better to preemptively pull the door shut then to try and clean up a post-outbreak mess. We have seen in New Rochelle and Seattle how fast COVID-19 can spread if people in gatherings are unaware of its presence.

And we have seen, in Italy, how bad things can get if you don’t act fast enough.

If we can protect ourselves, we should, in the small gestures, like hand washing, which keeps the little breeze from blowing an ember, and in the big gestures, like gathering for mass events, which can stave off a massive blaze.

Protect the elderly

That brings us to those who can’t so easily protect themselves: Our elderly. Why has this not been more of a federal priority? It’s an accepted fact that those over 60 are more at risk with the coronavirus, and those over 80 may be in mortal danger. Why is there no formal program to protect nursing homes and senior centers? To assure that homebound elderly can still get medical care and supplies? To construct facilities, even makeshift ones, that can handle seniors if our hospitals get overloaded? Aren’t our parents and grandparents worth making a priority?

This baffles me. As did the earlier suggestion by our Senate lawmakers that they wouldn’t pass legislation until after they returned from a scheduled recess. A scheduled recess? Were they serious? (They have since reconsidered and will be in session next week.)

But this is what the short-term future will come down to. A series of decisions, big and small, that will determine how long this thing will shadow us.

We need to be our best now. We need to be responsible and considerate of our society — and this doesn’t mean grabbing every roll of toilet paper off a Costco shelf and hoarding it into your truck. It doesn’t mean reporting on COVID-19 stories with political bias, when the viewers only need facts. It doesn’t mean threatening or ostracizing people who get sick, as if it’s them or you in a fight to survive.

It isn’t.

Not even close.

The good news is, this will eventually pass and we will get through it. We have endured worse. COVID-19 isn’t shipping our sons and daughters off to war. It isn’t causing us to lose our homes. It isn’t threatening to blow up our buildings with no warning.

What it’s doing is upsetting the apple cart of our lives, and because our lives are good and blessed, it is more noticeable to us and to the world.

We are dry leaves in a wildfire now, combustible and brittle and subject to burning on the outside. But what’s inside will determine our legacy in this health challenge.

Let’s see what we’re made of.             

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

4 Comments

  1. Theresa Ramus

    Isn’t is something how life changes in just a few short hours. Yep like you said we will all survive. Precautions have to be in place. You always know what to say to people that makes sense. It can be overwhelming listening to all the different opinions of doctors and people Everyone must think positively. The best answer I can come up with in regards to this virus is that the next 2 months will be tougher times. They can reevaluate situations every 30 days. Once we get past that hopefully we will all be on the backside of this. Schools may need to be in session a bit longer to make up. Everyone should not be so worried about going on vacation. It could be skipped until later on. It won’t kill anyone to do that. Have a great day. Always such a good writer.

    Reply
  2. ColorMeHappy

    I want to say that I’m more than a little annoyed. Not about cancelled classes, games or social activities. I understand the reasoning behind it. I’m annoyed with the people who don’t bother to read (or read with comprehension), watch (to the end) or listen (again to the end or with clarity) updates regarding this virus that has changed the way we live, work and play.

    I was out doing my regular Saturday morning shopping (not panic shopping) and as I was finishing up, I noticed this guy going up and down the aisles talking loudly with his family and others he encountered, spreading misinformation and half truths about the situation. He even harangued the woman at checkout, having her read out loud the percentage of alcohol in his pre purchase sanitizer and then declaring to all within earshot that it wasn’t enough and that we all would be better off making our own.

    As I was walking out the door, he was behind me and noticed I had on gloves — It is still the winter season where I live, and it was a chilly day so I was wearing my winter gloves. He said in a stage whisper … “Yeah, gloves … You got on gloves … That’s a good idea right about now …. I should be wearing gloves … You were thinking Miss Lady”. Really???

    Panic tends to cancel out logical thinking. One person overloading their cart with bleach, toilet paper, wipes, water, etc. will get other people to not think but react and do the same. It’s ridiculous, sad and shows how easily people can be misled.

    Be proactive. Wash your hands. Don’t be touching extra stuff and if you feel safer wearing gloves even if it’s not winter, do it. The life you save may be yours … or the life of someone you love.

    Reply
  3. blank

    Bravo, man. Good words.

    Reply
  4. Roza

    Hello Mr. Albom,

    As a mom to two middle school children, I was able to witness how important and effective teachers are especially in times of crisis.  The article written by you, “ Coronavirus pandemic will show exactly what we’re made of”, was assigned virtually by Andrew Robert Bird, English teacher from Troy, Michigan, to my children to read and analyze.  I was impressed by the teacher and my two children and on how they worked together to decipher current issues and turn the idea of no school to more than a snow day.  It got them thinking, evaluating and believe me it will impact my children for years to come.  Most importantly, your article got them feeling.  Please read my two children’s analysis and witness the future generation’s perspective and interpretation of your article on current issues. And to give you an insight, an excellent teacher can and will be just as effective face to face as they can virtually.  So if you are asking, what we are made of?  Let’s fast forward to resilience, creativity, and the future voice of education.  Both my husband and I are health care providers and my husband is at the front lines caring for COVID patients, we both are grateful of our overlooked hero’s who are our educators.  They are the ones who will impact our future medical professionals, statesman, journalists, accountants, entertainers, parents and historians.   Thank you for the thoughtful article, it got us all thinking and hopefully taking actions.

    Lucas, 13 years old from Northville, Michigan

     Summary
     
    In order to stay safe from this novel pandemic, the coronavirus,we must stay home and not fear it, but not underestimate it. We should maintain social distancing and as long as all of us cooperate, this pandemic will be destroyed.
     
    Three Quotes
     
    “It is a human wildfire and each of us feels like a dry leaf, praying the wind blows in the other direction” (Albom 1). The author creates an extended metaphor to describe the coronavirus and how quickly it spreads like a fire. We are the dry leaves, just waiting to catch on fire, and we want the virus to go away by the wind blowing the other way so the fire (coronavirus) doesn’t catch us. We are leaves waiting to burn during this pandemic.
     
    “It is time — and the speed with which this virus is tumbling institutions — that has jolted us so thoroughly from the idyllic days of January, when our biggest worry was who’s going to shovel the snow.” (Albom, 5) This quote means that the real problem is not the virus, but how all of a sudden it became a problem that “jolted” us. This pandemic really changed our lives in only a few months.
     
    “This is not who we are in America. We don’t live in the dark. Which is why, more than many countries, we will have a harder time with COVID-19. It’s because of how good we have it and how freely we move.” (Albom, 11) This means that in America, we get all these liberties and can pretty much do as we like, as long as it is not harming anyone else. Because we are free, it will be harder to endure staying at home because of COVID-19. Unlike countries like China, you can basically close everything in a snap of a finger due to the fact they are not as free as us.

    Kayleigh, 11 years old from Northville, Michigan 
     
     
    Quote Analysis

    Mitch Albom mentions, “ It is time — and the speed with which this virus is tumbling institutions — that has jolted us so thoroughly from the idyllic days of January when our biggest worry was who’s going to shovel the snow.” This is a significant quote because it establishes that we weren’t physically and mentally prepared for what was going to happen to our world in a matter of weeks. We were worried about the snow on our driveway and not our world’s health. Part of the problem with COVID-19 is the suddenness with which it has disrupted our lives. Recognizing the rapid changes that have altered the norm can help people appreciate normal life more.
     
    Mitch Albom mentions, “ Concerts canceled. Spring breaks canceled. Universities going strictly online. Games without fans. Debates without audiences. Then the NBA. Then the NHL. Then March Madness.” This quote is important because it is listing all the events that have been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and how it has affected our culture by disrupting the important events.
     
    Mitch Albom also mentions, “ Many have never felt so vulnerable. We are tucking into our lives, wary of gatherings, wary of neighbors, wary of things that were just, what — two weeks ago? — symbols of our human spirit: handshakes, high-fives, hugs, kisses.” This quote is significant because it is explaining the things we used to do weeks ago and now we are very scared of those things because of the outbreak. High fives, hugs, and kisses are all things that we would do daily but now these things are vital to stay away from. Social distancing is needed to prevent the rapid spread of the virus, but it also makes it harder for people to show their affection for each other.
     

    Reply

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