Modern Americans have been blessed by the sacrifices of many before us. We can hope each person who gave their lives in service to America believed the Roman poet Horace (65 BCE-08 BCE) was correct: Est dulce et decor pro patria morte.
One of those previous Americans to whom we owe a debt of gratitude was John Kennedy (1917-1963). Kennedy was injured in battle in World War II and suffered severe back pain because of it. As a young man he sat in a rocking chair to ease his pain. Yet Kennedy did not take the position America owed him anything. In his presidential inaugural address of January 20, 1961 he exhorted us to ask not what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country.
And as the English poet John Donne (1572-1631) advised, when one hears a bell tolling because someone has died, it tolls for each of us because we are all involved in mankind. As Donne observed, each person’s death diminishes us all.
Our current conflict pits all of us against a frightening enemy. It is COVID-19 against us all much as our country has been attacked many times before. Previous Americans have had to make similar difficult sacrifices. Through no one’s fault, including our own, it is now our time to face tough choices. My experiences with Americans and a reading of our country’s history convinces me that we are up to the challenge.
Oh, I am aware we could ignore the virus and it would eventually die out as we develop natural anti-bodies to it. We might lose a couple of million people from COVID-19 and then millions more later as COVID-19 becomes COVID-20, 21, etc., as it mutates. But chances are most of our country’s 330 million people would survive, the economy would recover quickly and as the folk singer Phil Ochs (1940-1976) wrote, probably hardly anyone would long notice, “.. outside of a small circle of friends”. Fortunately, most Americans see their duty to their country more as recommended by President Kennedy.
However, it is not easy. A great many people have had important matters in their lives simply devastated by the enemy and our collective response to it. Weddings, funerals, religious services, life savings, graduations and countless other vital and important matters have been ravaged by something completely beyond the affected people’s control and something for which they bear no blame. We should recognize these sacrifices just as we know we have been blessed by the selflessness of previous Americans. But with a steadfast resoluteness we can weather this storm by applying proven guidelines until we defeat this scourge, which we most certainly will do within the next few months.
We are in a Marathon. It started out as a battle against a fierce enemy from Asia much as the ancient Greeks faced when the Persians attacked. We are now well on the way to victory. It is no longer more than twenty-six miles. Athens is in sight but we must stay the course for awhile longer. Pheidippides made it the whole way in 490 BCE and so can we.
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