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Creating Hope During a Socially Distant Birthday

2020 March 28
by Mike Vial

Friends, today, my daughter is five. I will always remember this birthday in vivid color, equally as I remember her birth. I hope she can remember it as a time we came together.

The Covid-19 virus doesn’t care about color; it doesn’t care about borders; it doesn’t have a political agenda or state hot takes online; it doesn’t have a social media account or an affiliation to a political party; it doesn’t have feelings; it doesn’t need to be congratulated for doing a great job; it doesn’t take it personally that it is more disliked than [insert your politician of choice here].

It just replicates.

Only science, logic, humility, empathy, compassion and action will allow us to defeat it—a trinity of scientific ingenuity, faith or spirituality that humbles our ego, and a deep sense of fellowship will be our defenses. If any leader, big or small, isn’t demonstrating all of those qualities, they will fail. The virus will continue to spread, and that’s its only mission.

Leaders can and will make mistakes, but they must be maturely, unequivocally honest—with heart, logic, wit, and guile. The fingertips of rose will rise again tomorrow, for us to adjust course.

We are in this together on the ship of state: as a neighborhood, as a county, as a state/providence, as a country, as a continent, as a planet. (This is a practice test for more arduous challenges in 50-100 years, heaven forbid sooner.)

For those of us who are new to epidemiology, it’s time to trust the experts. We are not on the sideline, but essential participants and active listeners. We all have an oar in our hands as we row.

But if we didn’t know the difference between a linear scale graph and a logarithmic graph, we need to differ to the MacArthur Genius and the emergency room nurse. We must remain well read, but it’s better to go wash our hands rather than type an argument on FaceBook with an acquaintance we haven’t seen in years. Time may go by slowly now, but time is more valuable than money; use it wisely.

The virus, indeed, uses time wisely; it’s here, now, in all states. It’s probably in our town, even if it’s not tracked by testing yet.

Even if we aren’t working on the front lines of the war against the virus, we need to be persistent: understand social distancing, clean hands washing, healthy eating, exercising, family closeness, and mental health monitoring. We also need to redefine the role of government and push for economic help that is bottom up, not top down. We must recognize we are borrowing from our kids’ and grandkids’ economic futures, but we must, to maintain a future we and they recognize.

We need to beat this virus.

In the end, our feelings don’t matter to the virus; math matters to beat it. No one can predict the future exactly, but we can adjust actions as we successfully test more portions of the country, sick and healthy, and catch up on our medical resources.

The economy is in a coma. The country will never be the same after this. There is no analogy for this moment. To paraphrase Pulitzer Prize honored historian, David Blight, the closest historical moments we have are the Civil War and the 1930s. Reading history does not protect us from the future, but it prepares us in the present. Yet, the virus spreads at its quiet pace; we will find more hope in reading poetry than the news every hour…

Poetry may hyperbolize, but the virus doesn’t. The virus would have killed an American population the size of LA in a season without these extreme measures. That statistic would have destroyed the economy and overwhelmed our health care systems.

It still might, yet hopefully to a lesser degree. Watch out for underprivileged communities. They will be hurt the most, holistically; yet a marathon runner in perfect health will also be in the 1%, living in an ICU for weeks, hooked to a ventilator, while others needed that same spot. We Americans can have four or five examples of Italy by May. Rural communities may be miles away, but they are tight knit; their struggles follow after urban cities.

Be prepared to do social distancing for two or three months in cycles. We will get through this. We do it together, even if six feet apart.

The way to save our economy is to beat the virus.

The experts agree on that main idea, and they only offer differences of nuance with how to continue our journey together. Don’t confuse false choices and fantasies dressed with a veneer of pseudoscience. This is real.

We as Americans can blame ourselves for being sucker punched, later. Yes, later, we can fault political leadership of other countries’ handling of the virus in the winter before us, but all of us watched others suffering abroad and understood how viruses spread…We could have added and multiplied numbers in our head, counted using our fingers if we had to, to see the danger approaching. We as a country had time to prepare, but squandered it. Shall other communities who get the virus after us gain anything from blaming our shortcomings? It will be for later to determine blame and consequences, to even forgive. We must remember, a rhetoric of pointing blame won’t serve us to find answers and save lives. The virus doesn’t live in terms of right or wrong, or decipher the guilty from the innocent. It lives and dies in the present, like us.

Today, my daughter is five. I will remember her birthday in color. I want her to remember it as when her country finally came together.

May family and faith find you well.

With love,



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