In peril, our society’s resilience is nothing less than amazing
By most measures we are living in not only very troubled but uncharted days for a number of reasons. Yet the miraculous outcome to this point has been not a collapse of society but a phenomenal display of individual and collective resilience.
If you’d told me in advance how well we could do when battered by setback after setback I wouldn’t have believed it. Nor would I have believed how well we’ve managed so far to cope with it all and keep our sanity.
If my collaborator (in the collaboration he wrote it, I copied it) was assessing what we face today, Charles Dickens might have put it this way:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
A rather nice turn of phrase by Mr. Dickens, don’t you think? And quite apt.
As for the worst of times, we can all check off the individual pieces of the puzzle we are living in: a pandemic of a magnitude not seen in a century, the worst economic quarter in more than a century, unemployment in double digits, ethnic stress in a police-versus-us dichotomy, a near-total lack of confidence in national political leadership, an educational system so stressed that even knowing when a school year might start or where the students will study is a question mark days before they begin, national sports in disarray, leaders questioning our ability to hold elections and virtually open Russian meddling in them and, for good measure, a hurricane threat.
Just when you think you’ve heard it all and it can’t get worse, it does. Piece by piece.
Yet Americans in general and Miamians in our case are managing to get through it all. If Londoners were able to survive the blitz and Israelis frequent attacks by their neighbors, we have shown that we have both the grit and goodwill to survive and get past the worst of it.
If you had told me last year that you could get the average Joe to wear a mask and practice social distancing and wash his hands over and over all day for month after month I would have laughed at you. Of course Joe and Josephine and the rest of us are sick and tired of it, but we can do it – and we are.
If you’d said that we’d hold major sporting events without an audience I’d have said it was unthinkable. As, of course, would have been cancellation after cancellation of every form of cultural event known to mankind, with digital recreations as a substitute.
Or weddings without wedding parties, restaurants without diners, government meetings without really meeting. The list goes on.
Yet we’ve done it.
We’ve seen our tourist industry in peril yet search for new ways to serve the public.
Joblessness has been painful yet we’ve found ways to alleviate the pain for millions, to get them through this as we all have to get through it.
In what once was a black-and-white ethnic division, we’ve seen members of all ethnic groups come together to demand racial justice and do so for the right reasons that can leave this nation stronger and more united.
Amazingly, we’ve seen parents roll with continual punches as education professionals try to find ways to best teach children when the pandemic won’t let us do it the old way for now – and who knows how long “now” means?
As for political leadership and elections, we know that in less than three months the public will decide on leaders at local, state and national levels – and the vast majority of us still trust in the system, if not in every individual. System, importantly, also means the system by which we choose our leaders – those sowing seeds of distrust abroad do not find particularly fertile ground in our democracy.
Oh, and as for hurricanes, they have battered Florida as long as history has been written and we’re still here and strong, thank you. At least we get advance warning to fill the water jugs and put up the shutters. That’s more than we got for the pandemic.
Piece by piece we all realize that we will overcome most of the multiple perils we now face and figure out how to get past the others.
That doesn’t imply that any of these battles is either minor or overstated. They are major, but we can overcome them all.
We’ve seen racial injustice for centuries. Progress has never been fast enough, but we still make progress.
We will find ways to reduce or eliminate the threat of Covid-19. It won’t be fast enough to save enough lives, but we will achieve it as we have battled other health scourges.
Our nation has battled those who would divide us for centuries. They can cause great suffering. Yet since the Civil War we have found ways over time to knit up the wounds inflicted internally. We only achieve together, not artificially divided for the political gain of a few.
A historic perspective is helpful in that it provides hope to overcome everything we now face at one time.
But there is also hope when we look at our fellow Americans, Floridians and Miamians who are managing to create a new normal in very abnormal times. Not only are they doing, but they are doing it successfully.
Confidence is vital in battle. We are battling on multiple fronts today, and we are more resilient than we think. We can wear masks with a smile underneath them.
Is it a new normal? If it’s not the best of times and the worst of times combined, it may be the oddest of times.
But this too shall pass. It’s our job to make it pass. We will do our jobs.