I belong to a small community. Its celebrations are my joy. Its losses are my grief.
I live, work, play, walk, workout, hike, bike, buy, and eat in my community.
My sons and daughters are its schools. My business sustains my family and provides for my town.
My community is my home. And my home is under attack.
During this extraordinary time in our country, state, and community, we must all resolve to work together to fight this COVID-19 virus that has so significantly impacted our daily lives.
Together gives us calm and stability. Together gives us purpose. Even though we may be apart, together means we are not alone in this fight.
But now I am troubled. Deeply troubled.
Because the virus is supposed to be the enemy. Soldiers fight together to beat an enemy. They fight in platoons and in battalions, and they fight together as an army. One person cannot beat an enemy such as we are facing. But an army can. With will, determination, and smarts.
Yet, this virus is a brilliant enemy. And as any great enemy knows, the simplest way to win a war is to divide and conquer. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Walt Kelly’s famous comic strip character, Pogo, so intuitively intoned. We are doing the virus’s work. We are dividing and conquering ourselves.
Fear is how it divides us. Of course, what the virus does best is death. And the most heart-chilling fear is the fear of dying and of death, for ourselves, our families, and our friends. Next is the fear of losing our jobs and our businesses. Of not paying our bills. Of losing our home. Of possibly going hungry.
But who could have imagined how brilliant the virus has become in its psychological warfare. We now have the fear of being caged up too long. The fear of being around other people. The fear of not being able to touch another person, or to see your friends and family. The fear that nobody cares to help you or worse — has forgotten you. The fear that there will be no more normal again.
And better yet, the enemy is invisible. It plays with your sense of reality. If you can’t see it, it can’t be real. Sun Tzu, the famous military strategist and philosopher, knew the brilliance of the virus some 2500 years ago: “Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.” How do you fight an invisible enemy?
Hope is not a strategy to win this fight. Yet in our aching desire for normalcy — a very real desire — we rely upon hope that somehow, by some internal twisting of mirrors and fate, we will escape from the virus. All we have to do is hope that we don’t get it. But remember, it’s not just about you. It’s about all of us. We all affect — and infect — each other. But sprinkle enough hope dust on anyone and that’s better than any vaccination.
Or you can rely upon the Russian roulette strategy — a one-in-six chance of not being killed when the trigger is pulled. How many of you are willing to pull that trigger? But worse yet, the bullet will probably hit more than just its intended victim. With one bullet you can maim or kill lots of people. The virus loves this strategy.
So, you are now faced with a test. THE test. And the test has now begun.
What did you do in the great pandemic to beat the enemy? Did you help or did you hinder? Did you sacrifice or did you squander? You are now creating your own history during one of the greatest moments in our history, one that will define you to yourself for the rest of your life.
This test is when we truly meet ourselves. When our actions reveal who we are to ourselves and to each other. Being in the midst of war, in the fury of battle, we discover the best and worst of our humanity.
Great loss in our lives brutally reveals us to our mortality, bringing a stinging clarity to what matters most in life. It is at the brink of ourselves that we discover the totality of who we are by our actions — and by our inactions.
You — and you alone — are entirely responsible for the outcome of this test. The twin cohorts of blame and excuses will not save you from your choice. And their cousin—the lie—is only a wet blanket and it cannot protect you. No, you are alone in this choice. That’s the beauty of such a stark decision.
Why is this test now so important? Because it represents a moment in time that will define us, collectively and individually, for the rest of our lives.
Many years ago, I sat on a flight next to a former marine who had fought at Iwo Jima. He was going to a reunion of his remaining comrades. Having worked as a freelance journalist in a combat zone, I asked him how difficult the fighting was. Like a penitent monk released to confession, he revealed to me how his endless thirty days of fighting, and then being wounded, had stayed with him the rest of his life. He confessed that there was rarely a day that he didn’t think about it — and his comrades in arms.
The legacy of what he said next would guide me for years. For his sacrifices now became part of my principals. His words, now all the more powerful in this Covid time of battle. Because, for him, together was all that mattered. And still matters.
He said, “I live in the sacrifice of my friends. We fought together and we died together. My job these last fifty years was to live for them. To be the best man I could be because they gave me my life. I could not have been the man I was and still am without them.”
And now, all these years later, all I can hear is the word — together.
Because together is what you do to fight the enemy. The very real enemy is our midst. And that’s who you fight and there’s only one fight — and one enemy. And you fight this fight because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing you’re supposed to do.
When we forget how to fight for each other rather than at each other — we lose. When we forget how to do together — we lose. When we forget how we are each other’s family and brother and sister in arms — we lose. And the virus wins.
Now it is our choice — as a community and as individuals. Divided — we are like single soldiers fighting an entire army on our own. Together, we are a juggernaut of strength that can overwhelm in numbers, persevere in tenacity, and triumph in brilliance. And ultimately — win.
Remember, we are not the enemy. The virus is the enemy. Fight it. Not us.