Be Like Jimmy Carter

I’m a fan of the PBS series Frontline. I’ve been watching it for years to learn more about the world. It’s topics are always timely and informative and invariably lead me to do additional research on my own. Of course during the days of Covid-19 the program has often featured human interest stories about individuals and groups who have suffered from the virus. 

I’d been feeling a bit low about the isolation that has come to define my life during the past six months when I tuned in to an episode that featured two families whose lives were upended by these uncertain times. The first feature introduced an Hispanic woman who was many months pregnant when she contracted Covid-19. She began to have some difficulties associated with her pregnancy and was admitted to the hospital. Soon after her baby was born and during the birth she went into a coma brought on by complications from  the virus. She would spend the next many weeks battling for her life while breathing with the help of a ventilator.

In the meantime her husband and other son both tested positive for Covid-19 as well. When it came time for the newborn baby to leave the hospital the father had no idea what to do so he contacted his son’s teacher and asked if she might be able to help. The woman checked for resources everywhere and finally decided that she and her husband would have to care for the baby while her student’s family attempted to recover from the virus. She herself had been an immigrant as was her husband, so they both understood the complexities of the situation. It was a difficult decision but one that she knew she had to make.

Nothing went smoothly for the infected family so it was many more weeks than anyone anticipated before the mother of the newborn was well enough to return home to her husband and son who had finally overcome the virus themselves. With the unflagging support of the teacher and the generosity of countless strangers the baby was finally reunited with his mother who soon learned that her own mother had contracted Covid-19 and was not doing well. Nonetheless they were joyful that they were finally back together and enormously grateful for the compassion of the teacher who had helped them so much.

I felt a sense of guilt after watching this program and learning how much the Hispanic community has been impacted by this virus. The families that were featured had been working hard and enjoying life before Covid-19 upended their dreams of building better lives in the United States. They lived simply and frugally but they were happy. They got sick mostly because they never had the luxury of staying home and avoiding the virus. They continued doing essential work that so many of us take for granted. The virus invaded their lives because they had been determined to keep a steady income flowing into their simple existence. 

Even as we sit in our homes feeling beset upon because our own lives have been disrupted by inconveniences there are people who are working in hot fields harvesting crops or in factories preparing the food and the products on which we depend. Our country has built walls to keep many like them away from us and now in an ironic twist they have become essential to us. Even as more and more of them become sick and die, there are those among us who continue to complain about them and would gladly send them back to the places from whence they have come. Too often we take for granted the fresh produce and cases of meat that we find in our stores. We complain about shortages without thinking that they have often happened because the people who prepare such things are sick from the virus. 

I remind myself each morning of my good fortune. I am able to do the things that should keep me healthy and safe. While my activities have been constrained by Covid-19 I have not missed a meal or worried that I might lose my home. I may have to forego a trip or an evening at a restaurant but that is a small sacrifice in a time when there are souls who are losing multiple family members and living on the edge of financial disaster. 

I see much kindness around me. I think of the teacher in the Frontline story who so lovingly helped the family of her student by caring for their newborn. Nonetheless, I worry about the level of selfishness that seems to be rampant in our society. I hear people complaining about simple changes that they must make in their lives. I hear comments about the poor and minorities that are distressing. I wonder when so many in my midst became so self absorbed that they are no longer able to find enough compassion to just help those in need without judging them or demanding their own rights. 

I do not say that I am blessed because such a description implies that somehow God has chosen to be good to me over others and nothing in my Christian beliefs makes me think that a generous deity would pick and choose individuals on whom to bestow favors. Instead I believe that we are provided with opportunities and talents that we are expected to use for the good of all. That means sharing whatever we have and sacrificing if necessary. That should be our main focus in these times. 

I have to remind myself of this every single day because it is easier to complain than to look for ways to help to end the difficult moment in which we live. I am grateful that our grocery stores are still operating. I appreciate that our doctors and nurses who are still available to heal us if we get sick even as many in their midst have died. I do everything in my power to support our teachers as they undertake the task of continuing the education of our young. I join them by doing my part to teach mathematics to a number of youngsters who are learning from home. I ask myself what I might personally do to ensure that those who are less fortunate will not drown in worry or loss. I believe that if we are to overcome the horrific effects of Covid-19 we all need to agree to unconditionally care for our fellow humans and provide for their needs whoever they are and wherever they may be. We also must be willing to speak out against any form of name calling or lack of compassion regardless of the source. We have been shown the way the truth and the light. If we follow those examples all else will fall into place. If we fight over status and possessions our journey will be more difficult. 

If there is a leader whom I would want us to emulate it would be former President Jimmy Carter. He has spent his life walking the walk of his beliefs. He has worked to care for the underserved, the forgotten. He provides homes and love. Let’s be like him and remember that we are all neighbors.

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