We are a wealthy nation with vast resources, yet we have been walloped by a microscopic thing that doesn’t have a single living cell. It certainly doesn’t process with a brain like us. How could such a simple thing wreck our lives and cause such havoc?

The answer may lie within us. We think of ourselves as intelligent beings because we have well developed brains. We compete to see who is the most intelligent and yet we’ve let this thing invade our bodies and kill us. We name our efforts to combat it with futuristic names like Operation Warp Speed and pat ourselves on the back for scientific breakthroughs, which are remarkable, but still we struggle at basic things like wearing a mask. While one person refuses, another shakes their head bewildered and another confronts the first for refusing to wear a mask. This scenario plays out every day all over the country as the virus continues to spread.

When I arrived in Japan in 1980, I observed some unfamiliar behavior. As the weather began changing, I started to see a few people wearing masks in public. I was told they were doing this because they thought they might be sick. This seemed surprising to me. During the three years I spent sailing the western Pacific, that was a common sight in many countries. Then I returned to the United States and never saw anyone donning a mask other than in medical settings.

Last year, when Covid-19 first arrived on our shores, we were told we didn’t need to wear a mask because medical personnel needed them for protection and there was a shortage. Still I saw some people with masks in public. The CDC changed the guidelines and masks were recommended to curb the growing crisis. Many wondered why. Was it to protect me or you? Those who believed it was to protect themselves, complied willingly. Many refused for a variety of reasons, all of which revealed a sad disregard for others.

While this was happening, the virus was doing something we found hard to do: Change.

Over the summer, many filled the streets in protest calling for change only to be met by forces determined to stifle it. In the midst of a pandemic, people turned out in unprecedented numbers to elect a new president with the hope of change. The outcome was questioned by those who were not willing to accept change. They wanted things to remain the same or more unrealistic, a return to the past. We became entangled in conspiracy theories that pitted one against another. The rhetoric spiraled into a whirlwind of hatred that climaxed with the Capitol insurrection.

Tentatively, we were promised a reprieve from our fatigue in the form of vaccines. They are truly a medical marvel that have the potential to change the trajectory of suffering for all. Disappointment soon took hold as we discovered there were not enough for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated. Scarcity increases the value of anything, and vaccines are no exception. A scramble for the vaccine commenced.

We are forced to wait for our turn to get a vaccination.  Like in a supermarket where there are many lines, we all want to be in the shortest line while there are those sitting in the parking lot having their vehicles loaded and others at home waiting for their delivery. This pandemic has exposed disparity in so many areas and has even allowed for it to widen. We must change to prevent this from worsening.

A look at the data will reveal some alarming facts. Communities of color are being affected at a disproportionate level. One might ask why. The answer is complex and long in the making, but here are some simple takeaways. Largely due to a history of inequitable health care, we have a higher rate of underlying health issues. We work in jobs that expose us to more people. For multiple reasons, we find it difficult to gain access to the waiting lists and locations one must go to be vaccinated.

It would benefit everyone if the people who are most exposed were vaccinated early. They would be able to go about knowing they were not exposing others to what they may unaware they have. It would benefit everyone if the people who were most likely to wind-up in the hospital were vaccinated. We can look at the data and easily determine those people. My service in the Navy taught me that thinking about others may be the best way to protect ourselves.

The past year has forced us to face ourselves and what we see is not a pretty picture. The image we expected in the mirror, has turned out to be a figment of our imagination. The people we now see don’t resemble who we thought we were. If we can muster the humility to ask; Why are we like this? The answer may be hard to accept, but it’s the only way to become who we aspire to be.


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Man in front of foliage smiles at camera

Philip Cobbs

Philip Cobbs was born and raised in Albemarle County, and his family lineage extends back at least four generations in the county. A graduate of Piedmont Virginia Community College, he is a craftsman, author, educator, businessman and farmer.