"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in…"
Does it seem to you like we’re trudging through a tunnel right now? It does to me. How did we get here? Where are we headed? A light at the end beckons to us, but it’s far away.
It’s an analogy for the moment. In the coming weeks, a killer virus will test our resolve as cooler weather herds us indoors. Last week, another miscarriage of justice showed us how far we have to go in the fight against racism. And a monumental election looms, with America’s fate on the line. In this dark moment, we must try to visualize the tunnel’s end and trust that the path we’re on will lead to control of the pandemic, a just society, and a functional government.
In dark times I reassure myself with a prophetic metaphor, used by Martin Luther King and attributed originally to the Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. I know the outcomes we seek aren’t promised, let alone foreordained, but the metaphor’s image pushes me to consider the talent and resolve of my traveling companions.
Millions of lives depend on the choices we are about to make, and the kind of country we will reenter at the tunnel’s end. Will it be a country where people agree on basic facts and moral principles? Will it be a country that recognizes that the best way to protect each other from COVID-19 is to wear masks and follow social distancing rules? Will it be a country committed to equal protection for all people, including people of color, as enshrined by the 14th amendment? Will it be a country that respects honesty, integrity, and science? Will it be a country that promises healthcare as a human right?
There are no guarantees, but history offers reason for hope as well as a roadmap. Epidemics from plague to TB to smallpox to polio came under control because of the successes of science and public health. Slavery and Jim Crow ended because of fearless work by abolitionists and civil rights heroes. Time and time again, we built coalitions to reform corrupt governments and elect responsible leaders. None of these outcomes were guaranteed, just as none of the outcomes we seek today are guaranteed, but history gives us reason for hope.
We will reach the end of the tunnel, even if we don’t know when. I know this because of what I see in all of you, despite the darkness. I see it in your intelligence and compassion. I see it in the spectacular care you give your patients, no matter what they look like. I see it in your dedication to science and research. I see it in your teaching. I see it in your support for each other. For all these reasons, I know we will reach the end, and reemerge into a country that is healthier, smarter, and more just, because of the work you’re doing now.
As Winston Churchill said, “we will never, never, never, never…give in…” We’ve bent the arc countless times before; we’ve got unlimited talent, faith, and resolve; and the stakes are too high.
Have a good Sunday, everyone,
PS For further reading:
A press release from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (a model of transparency and key reminders about infection control)
Fighting Racism Even, and Especially, Where We Don’t Realize It Exists (in preparation for Thursday night’s book club)