As a child, I remember laying in my grandparents yard on delightfully dark nights while gazing at the clearly visible glow of our galaxy – the Milky Way – and the sparkle of uncountable twinkling stars. Star-gazing gave me a sense of wholeness and complete peace and calm, as any earthly problems I had lost their significance when compared to the vastness and timelessness of space itself.
Unfortunately, suburban sprawl and accompanying light pollution have enveloped the area where I grew up, making it impossible to view the contours of our galaxy without the aid of a telescope. Still, that feeling of personal insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe has stayed with me throughout my life.
After seeing images of a distant Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it headed for the outer limits of our solar system, American astronomer and well-known science educator Carl Sagan eloquently summed up my feelings.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Sagan’s words seem particularly notable during our current time of crisis as governments and citizens bicker over the perceived best way forward when faced with the difficult choice between saving human lives or protecting livelihoods. While individuals and organizations in many regions of the world are coming together to support those in need, there are some who are using the current situation to further their own narrow political agenda with little regard for the rights of others or the greater good.
Live Free or Die?!
Over the past few weeks, protests organized by right-wing extremist groups and members of the anti-vaccination movement have erupted in many US states. Proudly dismissing the main-stream media’s – and scientific expert’s – warnings of Covid-19 as part of a deep-state plot to take away their rights, these citizens have obviously been brain-washed by three years of the Trump Administration’s ‘there is no truth’ policies. Many have also been swayed by the large number of conspiracy theories circulating around the internet currently.
Some protesters have been armed with guns while many carry American flags and others sport signs and banners featuring the enduring phrase ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ In the South, Confederate flags have been a staple of rallies as well.
The Gadsden flag or banner – a yellow flag with a striking Timber Rattlesnake and the words ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ – was designed in 1775 and used during the American Revolution. Later it became a symbol of American patriotism, disagreement with government, or support for civil liberties. ‘Live Free or Die’ is the official motto of the US state of New Hampshire.
While I fully support anyone’s right to protest peacefully in public spaces, I do quibble with the intent and timing of the current protests against state rules which are aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus. For government leaders at the local level, the rapidly changing pandemic presents few easy choices as they seek to provide solutions that will both save lives in the near-term and prevent further economic disruption in the future.
Many of those protesting appear to be white and middle class as indicated by the parades of folks in big SUVs with horns blaring that have descended on the streets of many state capitals. Perhaps I could be more sympathetic if these were gatherings of the poorest among us who are being harmed most by business shutdowns.
But of course people with the greatest and most urgent needs don’t have time to protest. They’re often the ones still risking daily infection by continuing to show up for jobs they can’t afford to lose.
Those who are protesting clearly demonstrate their disregard for community health and the well-being of their fellow citizens by gathering in large groups and refusing to wear masks or adhere to expert advice on social distancing. While I admit to having an innate dislike of authority myself (blame my rebellious Scots-Irish ancestors), I believe that all humans are equally bound by a responsibility to work toward common goals that benefit all.
In this case, that means adhering to the advice of health professionals in an effort to protect those who are most at risk if they become infected. As we all should understand at this point in the pandemic, protecting those most at risk has the added benefit of lowering the risk that healthcare providers will become infected.
This concept of ‘all for one and one for all’ isn’t simply a line from The Three Musketeers or some pie in the sky liberal’s dream, it’s a matter of life and death for many during a pandemic and a principle we must adopt if we want our species to continue to have a future on our planet. This appears to be the lesson nature is demanding we learn as we carefully navigate our way through this crisis and face the even greater challenges posed by climate change.
Masks and Social Distancing in Public
While the CDC has issued guidance advising people to wear a face covering in public spaces, some disgruntled individuals are using the situation as an excuse to lash out at fellow citizens.
My two sisters were recently verbally attacked while entering a small supermarket in North Carolina. As they were entering through a set of manual double doors, a lady exiting the store blocked their way and began ranting at them because they were wearing masks.
This angry lady didn’t let up until my sisters had managed to maneuver around her and take refuge inside the store. As my humble but also very wise grandmother used to say, some people need to be taken down a notch or two. Humility does indeed appear to be in short supply in some quarters these days.
Others have found more dramatic ways to show their disregard for public health rules and guidelines that are aimed at providing mutual benefits for all. Two McDonald’s workers were shot in Oklahoma when they asked a customer to leave because of public health rules that had closed the dining area. In another incident, a store security guard was shot and killed in Michigan as he sought to enforce that state’s mandate requiring that all customers wear a face covering.
Such examples of arrogance and personal disregard for others are, thankfully, not the norm during these trying days. Now more than ever, regardless of our own personal circumstances, we must remain aware that our actions affect the lives of others.
Only we, as individuals, families, friends and colleagues, can make sure that history speaks of the human kindness we extended to others during this era.