In our mad, polarized, COVID surge summer, the only way out is through
Sometimes, all you can do is put your head down and do your job.
Medical staff tend to a COVID-19 patient. Courtesy of University Hospitals
It all kind of piled up: COVID hospitalizations and deaths are up. We’re still trying to convince the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, even as intensive care units fill beyond capacity. As the Delta variant of the implacable virus attacks our children. Florida’s governor threatens the withhold the wages of educators who want to protect the lives of young people in their charge.
People are still shopping baseless claims of election fraud, and are actively working to knock the legs out from under American democracy. And, as an added bonus, an earth-shattering new report reinforces the reality that the world is literally on fire.
It’s … a lot.
And here’s a trade secret of the opinion business: Just like the rest of you, we get a little overwhelmed sometimes, too.
Surveying a landscape of denial on the basic realities of public health (vaccines and masks prevent illness) and science (people contribute to climate change, and are in a position to mitigate it), you ask yourself what you can do to sway the opinions of so many people who are so clearly dug in, and won’t move off those positions, no matter how hard you try to appeal to their better angels or sense of patriotism.
And, I’ll admit it, for the tiniest of moments there, I just kind of threw my hands up in the air.
My own rage over seeing the nation dragged backwards in its fight against the pandemic after a summer that began with such promise is palpable. I’m beyond tired of the “I wish I’d gotten the vaccine” stories that have seemingly accompanied every new death. I’ve yelled at the TV after the umpteenth account of a passenger attacking a flight attendant because they refused to wear a mask, or follow some other pandemic protocol designed to keep all of us safe.
So I could have gone on the attack. And the people who agree with me would have applauded. And the people who disagree with me would have filled my email inbox with invective that I can’t repeat here. And nothing would change. And we’d make no progress.
But giving up also isn’t an option. As the ancient Roman philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius reminds us, all you can do is put your head down and do your job. Ultimately, as author Ryan Holiday has translated for him, the obstacle becomes the way. And examples of it are everywhere if you look.
Take, for instance, the Florida school officials who have told Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to bring it with his threat to dock their pay over mask mandates.
“Standing up for our students and our families is part of our job,” Nora Rupert, a member of the Broward County School Board, said, according to Insider. “Being afraid that we’re going to lose our job — be removed from office, fined, lose our salary — bring it. Bring it. Because when you put that out there it makes me work harder for our school children and our families.”
This week, in tiny, Republican-controlled Tioga County in rural Pennsylvania, county commissioners told a state lawmaker pushing for an Arizona-style sham investigation of the 2020 election results to take a walk, as they denounced the costly and “unnecessary chaos,” that such a probe would cause.
In Texas, Democratic state Sen. Carol Alvarado spoke for more than 14 hours as she filibustered a Republican-backed voter suppression bill. The bill, which opponents said would suppress voters of color and the disabled, ultimately passed on an 18-11 vote, according to the Texas Tribune.
According to the Tribune, Alvarado, who wore running shoes and a back brace, wasn’t allowed to take bathroom breaks or even a drink of water. Nor was she allowed to sit or lean against her desk on the Senate floor.
But she kept at it. The obstacle became the way.
And those are just the headlines. Think for a moment of all the doctors and nurses who are putting their own health and safety at risk as they treat the unvaccinated, who have urged us time and again, to get vaccinated so we wouldn’t reach the crisis stage in which we currently find ourselves.
A year or so back, at the height of the pandemic, I wrote that there was no greater failure in the warrior state of ancient Sparta than to drop your shield. That’s not because it not only protected you, it also protected the hoplite marching into battle next to you. It was about protecting the whole line.
Those health care workers. The educators in Florida. The county commissioners in rural Pennsylvania. They’re protecting the whole line. Even if you don’t agree with them or their choices, there’s no disputing that they’ve put responsibility to the whole above responsibility to themselves.
They’ve recognized that the obstacle is the way.
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