The echoes of celebration are barely gone. The long lines of people standing to share their gratitude with, and for, our nurses, first responders, respiratory therapists, all those on the front lines, still ring in our ears. The nights of singing and ringing bells on our balconies and front yards to let them know they are our heroes, that we revere them, was like yesterday.
Those tributes were poignant and wholly appropriate, if not entirely inadequate. In fact, my last blog was about this very thing, the leadership and courage of our nurses, and all front line medical personnel. Collectively, we threw them right into harm’s way, and they eagerly, even if rightfully frightened, walked right into the fray. Some died for it. Some brought it home to their families. And we were grateful. Some of them, then, and still now, live in mobile homes in their front yards permanently isolated from hugging their own children, for weeks and months, so they could care for ours. And we fittingly called them heroes. Some sent their own families away, or left them, to walk straight to the front lines, and become the families for those real ones that could not be there. And we were brought to tears. That blog was posted during nurse’s week. One week ago. It ended on the 12th. Today is the 15th.
With all of that still so very fresh, and with this crisis hardly over, I now hear that many of these same heroes, are being asked to voluntarily furlough, or are even being laid off. In a matter of days, these “heroes” have gone from vitally essential, to a burden. If you don’t think our health care system is broken, or that our preparedness for this latest emergency lacking, nothing should assure of us that more than this latest turn of events.
We can bail out Pot Belly Sandwiches, the LA Lakers, Shake Shack, the Airlines, Banks, but when it comes to the very ones that, without whom, we would be far worse off now, with far more deaths, our message to them is.. you need to give still more, we can’t help. Is this our “Great” country?
It is true, and I am glad to say it, that many of the public traded companies returned their loans, and I don’t begrudge any that applied, even the large ones. For all of the failings in this I have to say the loans and stimulus checks were done quickly and for the most part well. All needed. But now, we have this new problem, and I have not heard much in the way of solutions for it. Our leaders say we “prevailed” but in so doing we have chosen to leave the brave ones that got us there, behind. Some of the media is paying attention, (https://www.insider.com/frontline-workers-are-going-without-salaries-while-ceos-keep-theirs-2020-5) but not many.
How can we leave these “heroes” so quickly, in a matter of days? For all of our “prevailing” we have one of the highest per capita death rates in the world, and one of the lowest per capita testing rates, and now on top of that, we are willing to simply let the capitalistic model be the only salve we can give front line workers that dealt with it all. And then today, our leadership, in our "great" country said, "vaccine or no vaccine, we are back" It is important to ask, who is "we?" Nearly 100,000 and probably more, will not be back. There was no mention of them, or our heroes, today.
The strength and character of any country is, in the end, judged by who we are willing to leave behind.
This does not feel “great” to me, at all.
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.