It started quietly, just another blip out of China which honestly wasn’t too frightening, or even particularly interesting, because there is always something coming out of China. Talks of tariffs and high-level political posturing. Rumors of abuses and human suffering which, frankly, we mostly only gave a passing sigh of saddened acknowledgement as we continued right on consuming our insatiable fill of cheaply affordable iThingies and a literal sea full of disposably unnecessary trinkets and toys.
We caught the soft and filtered whispers of the protests sparking. There were valiant, youth-driven, tear gas shrouded struggles out in the streets, back when wearing a mask held an entirely different meaning then it does today. We read stories of the quiet, chilling scribbles of a desperate factory worker found unexpectedly tucked into a package. A worker forced to labor at the expense of their age. Or their very freedoms. Risking their life, and probably those of whom were forced to work beside them, just for the chance to make their factory floor death-bed plea to the West, seen through their burning and abused eyes as still somehow a beacon of help and hope in a world that for them had grown so very totalitarian and deadly.
Then the infections grew worse. The numbers starting climbing higher. Instead of making preparations, we made memes and vaguely racist jokes. We ignorantly compared it to other illnesses, playing devil’s advocate in a grim game of misleading statistics. We trusted our elected officials and our outdated contingency plans, hiding ourselves behind our gluttonous hubris and our stubborn unwillingness to see the coming storm, riding virulently on the waves of thousands of Chinese voices crying out.
And we did not listen.
The infection then spread out like a coughed curse to other countries, staking its claim and steadily gaining ground until ultimately it had invaded over 180 countries and territories…in the span of only three months.
All through those first critical days and weeks our leadership assured us that everything was okay, that we had somehow wrestled control of the situation. But that was just more lies, spreading out even quicker than original infection. They had already dismantled what few protections had been in place and when the body count grew higher than they could politically ignore, instead of mobilizing meaningful help or drafting up protective policies, they instead tried to politicize it at the sake of our safety for the chance at re-election. They worried more about fingering the blame, or moving forward with their devious personal agendas, while we were all too busy being distracted by just trying to survive.
As one of my personal heroes, Thomas Paine, once wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” And those words mean just as much today as they did back when he first wrote them in 1776. Our enemy is now one that we cannot even see, but it is still just as deadly and it determinedly threatens to undermine and derail our very way of life.
But, much like in the nearly forgotten dark days of our initial revolution, there are still a great many patriots out there fighting. There are still human beings kind enough, and compassionate enough, to daily risk their lives for the sake of strangers. There are people still diligently working to keep this great nation afloat through the churning seas of this storm, even though they understand that all it takes is a single cough, or misplaced touch, for them to face their own mortality.
There are still people brave enough to stand up and shout that we can do better- to demand that we should do better. There are people like Captain Crozier who placed the needs of the men under his command before thoughts of his own welfare or career and felt compelled to write a letter, begging his superiors to send help to his ailing and infected crew. Those crewmen, trapped on a floating steel coffin eventually received that help; Captain Crozier was relieved of his command. And was then ridiculed and insulted for having had the audacity to write a letter that somehow leaked out of the chain of command.
But the invisible enemy that he was battling aboard his own ship knows no chain of command. It does not think or use logic. It does not feel fear. It is not even technically alive. It simply kills and kills with frightening efficiency.
When the curve eventually softens, and the threat gradually recedes, we will need to rise up to the challenge of determining what our new lives will be like and what kind of country we want to leave behind for our children. Do we want to be those sunshine patriots and summer soldiers that Paine so eloquently warned us about, or do we want to rise up united and demand that we be a better America?
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
– Thomas Paine