The coronavirus pandemic has seemingly turned our whole world upside down and we find ourselves in the midst of what Aldous Huxley would have called a "brave new world." It is, for sure, one of the most frightening times in our shared history. And we extend our deepest condolences to those of you who have been impacted by the illness known as COVID-19. This is truly a time when we can say that we are all in this together. Whether or not the illness has touched us personally, our way of life has been altered in ways big and small, in the United States and all across the globe.
Since the death of my late husband Roger on April 4th, 2013, it has been my fervent desire for things like empathy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and love to spread in such a viral way that they become natural parts of the lives of each and every human being on this planet. But my pragmatic side would tell me that there is nothing that can catch the attention of everyone all over the world. What a foolish daydreamer I thought I was.
And then, this pandemic hit and I realized that it is indeed possible to reach the whole world! I just never thought it would be like this, leaving death, illness and economic despair in its wake. How ironic that what has caught our attention in a viral way is an actual virus. If a virus can replicate in a way to insinuate its structure into the bodies and consciousness of almost every human being on this planet, why not a love meme or positive principles like empathy and compassion. Maybe my idea is not so foolish after all. We just have to figure out how to do it in the most kind and loving way imaginable.
Now that the world has seemingly come to a screeching halt and we are under Quarantine orders, can we use this enforced isolation time to rest and take better care of ourselves and of each other? This can be an opportunity to really go inside ourselves and determine how we want to live our lives and what contributions we want to make to society. Perhaps now we can figure out how to incorporate compassion and empathy into our daily lives. It is my hope that we can take this opportunity to band together to explore how we can create a more connected and creative and nurturing society. But first we must allay the fear and alleviate the pain and suffering of those who are hit the hardest by the medical and economic consequences of COVID-19.
I am encouraged by what I already see taking place bit by bit, and it is happening in a way I would have never thought possible. If I had stood on a street corner and shouted out words of love and connection, people would have walked by and smiled, or perhaps run past thinking I had lost my mind. Or even worse, they probably would have simply ignored me. But I’m finding that these last few weeks in isolation are causing us to yearn for human warmth, for the sound of a voice, for the sight of a face, for the touch of a handshake or a good word to make us laugh and know we are not alone. Things that we took for granted are things that we are beginning to recognize as valuable. That annoying sibling, or odd friend, the goofy relative or co-worker all have suddenly become not so annoying or odd or goofy, but someone we miss. Our hearts are opening a bit more making room for more patience and tolerance, more compassion, more forgiveness.
And we are making better use of our technology to stay in touch. For some, it’s Zoom or Google Hangouts, for others its Skype or What’s App, or even Facebook Live and Instagram Direct. I don’t know all of the various platforms being employed, I just know that I have gone from having only occasional virtual meetings per month, to having as many as five in one day, not counting the social interactions. During the business interactions, I see warmer etiquette, people sincerely asking about the health and vitality of others before launching into the business agenda. Even Twelve-Step groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) are meeting virtually. And I have participated or been invited to participate in prayer groups or meditation groups or chants for peace, harmony and healing.
All over I see us giving recognition to first responders, and healthcare practitioners and even delivery people and grocery store clerks and restaurant workers as the heroes they are. They are providing essential services to us at a time and in a manner when to do so can cause them to potentially contract COVID-19. And as we communicate this gratitude to them, we find creative ways to make their world a bit safer.
We are making masks, and going into production to manufacture additional ventilators and personal protective equipment to shield them from harm. And in Chicago, I see the Illinois Broadcasters Association raising money for food pantries to feed people who are out of school, or out of work, or homeless, or disabled. They initially asked to raise $250,000, but they have raised over one million dollars. I sincerely believe that deep down most people are good. They want to do the right thing. They care about others and it makes us feel good to know we can lend a helping hand, and that one will be there when we need it.
I see people making videos to make us laugh, or sadly, some share their stories of living with the coronavirus or losing loved ones to the virus, and those make us cry. People have established exercise classes in their neighborhoods that follow all the safety rules of social distancing. In Italy we saw people leaning out their windows and singing songs to lift the spirits of those in isolation. In the United States Jon Bon Jovi and others are doing the same thing, and in addition, he is serving meals in his restaurant to people who may not be able to afford them. People are taking pets to eldercare facilities and holding them up to windows to provide some heartwarming moments to the seniors who cannot have visitors. Families are pulling together in ways that seem so retro and therapeutic. They are talking to each other, eating meals together, going over lesson plans and taking the time to really listen to each other. And over and over and over I see beautiful random acts of kindness enacted in a creative way in a world that was so different even a few short weeks ago. My heart is overflowing with gratitude. Maybe we can effect positive change in the world after all.
I even applaud our politicians today, and particularly make note of those in Illinois, New York, California Washington, and Michigan for stepping up in their leadership roles and taking measures to protect their citizens. Governor Cuomo’s daily briefings have been about updating the toll the virus is taking or about the need for additional hospital equipment, but his briefings are also about letting the people of New York know that someone is there who cares about them. Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois declared a “shelter-in-place” to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and informed us of the hotels that are being pressed into service to provide respite for the first responders in between their shifts. But my heart also swelled with empathy when I saw our Mayor cry when she spoke of comforting the family of the first police officer to die of the coronavirus. And it swelled further when I heard Governor Jay Inslee of Washington say that the “fastest way to economic recovery is a recovery of our health, which is fundamental to all we hold dear.”
Governor Gavin Newsome extended an olive branch when he appeared on "The View" to tell about the 39 million masks California has provided to its healthcare workers in the same breath as he also explained diplomatically about the positive working relationship he has maintained with President Trump and the administration during the current crisis. And it is important to maintain these relationships. We are afraid. We need to be reassured when the world is falling apart, when people are dying, when the stock market is in free fall and people are losing their jobs, that the men and women we elected will be there to help us pick up the pieces. It is dawning on us, whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent, the vital role government plays in keeping our society running smoothly. And if our empathy meme is going to replicate as quickly and widely as the coronavirus itself, it is imperative that we all work together, even the politicians.
It is not on the shoulders of just one person. I sincerely hope that President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will appear together at a press conference to show the nation that they can work together in a time of crisis. We want to know that our Executive Branch and our Legislative Branch have our best interests at heart. That is just as important as it has been to have Dr. Anthony Fauci the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, give America straightforward scientific and medical information on the pandemic and how we will conquer it. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan expressed that poverty is a pre-existing socioeconomic condition that makes it more difficult to fight the pandemic and she states: “the fight is not between the federal and state governments, the enemy is the virus.” She is right. It takes a nation. And it takes all the forgiveness, empathy, compassion and kindness we can muster.
I say, we must band together. I pray and I meditate, and my prayers are not partisan.
Today, April 4th, 2020, is the seventh year since Roger transitioned into the great mystery. I can’t help but think about the message he would have wanted to send to the world about empathy during the coronavirus pandemic. I know that one of his messages would have been we are not alone. On our website at Rogerebert.com, we are publishing tributes to him. Some are his reviews, even movies about pandemics. Others are articles either by or about him. These will all stay up this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Next week, we will unveil our refreshed website in his honor and we hope you come back to enjoy it.
Until then, I extend heartfelt wishes for health and happiness from me and from all of us here at Rogerebert.com. Please stay safe.