Last month, my adopted city of New Orleans, Louisiana faced the fastest rate of spread in the world and the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita in the country. The crisis hit home: my father, a health care worker, spent twelve days awaiting Covid-19 test results (they came back negative) only to return to his place of work, a New Orleans hospital, and be given a packet of paper scrubs containing two tops and no pants. During those four weeks, good people at Last Brand, Chubbies, Microsoft, Arena Labs, and Masks for Heroes became fast friends of mine while unexpectedly working with hospital groups across the city and country to help identify sorely-needed personal protective equipment. In February, I’m not sure I knew what PPE stood for. In contrast, most of March was spent in one haze or another, often perched in bed typing PPE-entangled emails. Halfway into April, though we are not out of the woods, the curve is flattening in New Orleans. This offers time to reflect. (If you need PPE help, please reach out.)
A few weeks before Covid-19 rocked our world, I turned the last page of “The Arsenal of Democracy,” a book by A. J. Baime about feverish, disrupted, patriotic and purposeful life on the home front during World War II. On full display were imperfect people and businesses trying to do their part to help an effort far greater than any one being. Baime paints a dramatic picture of domestic production shifting at cosmic speed and of public-private partnerships and their many challenges and successes. He writes that the Kleenex Tissue Company produced machine gun mounts, Dow Chemical invented a munition coating that we know as Saran Wrap, and the likes of orange-squeezer makers, casket builders, and pinball-machine creators altered manufacturing to focus on the war effort. Sound familiar? Replace bullets and gun mounts for face shields and hand sanitizer and the parallels write themselves.
When makeshift morgues infiltrated New Orleans, I asked a friend who honorably served in the Army about how he framed his mindset while serving overseas. His response was both jarring and helpful: He likened what we are facing less to his experiences abroad and more to an attack on the home front. The fortunate among us still have our creature comforts: our beds, our pajamas, our warm meals. But we are also grappling with an invisible virus that has seeped its way into nearly every aspect of life: our livelihoods, our health, the health of our loved ones. He shifted my perspective to one that is now obvious — we are in a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s being run from our hospitals and labs, but also from our bedrooms and living rooms and kitchens. Perhaps a different “home front” from the one Baime described, but one filled with a people just as motivated to solve the myriad problems at hand.
As some of us join Zoom calls and hear colleagues’ children in the background, or as we lean on our neighbors in a whole new way, our humanity shows and the lines blur. As someone who normally spends her days steeped in efforts to lessen political division in this country, I am encouraged that for some at least, such division has taken a backseat. As Mary Katharine Ham eloquently wrote last week, “Perspective is one of the paradoxical gifts of tragedy.”
To stay sane, my team and I feel privileged to keep sharing the stories of some of the many helpers out there taking Mr. Rogers’ beautiful words to heart. People who are in this together. Like blogger Becky Vieira, who in a few weeks’ time inspired thousands of volunteers to donate PPE in 30+ states, and people like librarian Tom Bober, who made sure every student had a stack of books to take home before his school’s closure. I’m cutting myself some slack by taking time to cook — a welcomed slice of normalcy and peace. At dinnertime, loved ones are asked a meaningful question every night: Most treasured gift ever received? A person who unexpectedly changed your life? Favorite memory of all-time? For one family member, the answer to that last question is the moment he looked across a room and saw his future wife for the very first time. How fortunate I feel to have heard that story aloud.
The hardships we are facing are benefitted by us imperfect beings trying our best, one day at a time, for in these dark hours, messages of hope, determination, and good offer the best light.