WHAT UNITES US

On the same day the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump for inciting the deadly riot that he obviously incited, I waited with a small group of people for my first Covid vaccine. It was in a local CVS Pharmacy. I had walked in from listening to the depressing news that, once again, Donald Trump would not be held accountable for his cruelty, and found myself in a small gathering of people who were exhibiting the better angels of their nature. There was the older woman with bright pink hair and a necklace that looked like it was weighing her down who went out of her way to thank the young woman who was checking everyone in. Everyone was expressing their gratitude to her. I wondered how many hours she had been there, and how many hours she would remain. There was a young physical therapist who had brought her elderly client. There were family members standing protectively around a grandmother or a relative in a wheelchair, and there were people sitting patiently by themselves, lost in their own thoughts, content to wait their turn. 

 This has been a dark week. We watched again the horrible events of January 6th, but this time with previously unseen footage, and this time with the inescapable realization that many elected officials came perilously close to being murdered. Is there any doubt now that if the rioters had found Mike Pence they’d have used the gallows they erected outside the building? Or that they would have brutally murdered Nancy Pelosi?

 Several moments lodged in me and still give me chills. The rioters chanting, “Nancy, oh Nancy…” in a singsong tone that reminded me of Charles Manson’s followers. The noose dangling beneath the gray-cloud sky. The Capitol officer who, afterward, said he had been called the N-word fifteen times that day and who asked, “Is this even America?” There are two answers to that question: Yes and no. We have seen the worst of us in the past few years, spurred on by a president who delights in violence, as long as he doesn’t have to get his own hands bloodied. We have seen that America’s history with racism and antisemitism is still being written. But we have also seen, with this pandemic, the heroism of doctors and nurses, the compassion of people in all walks of life who understand that we are bonded right now by our fear and our grief. In those lands, we are never strangers. Most of us have lost someone to Covid or have prayed that a friend or loved one would survive. Most of us have felt the cold grip of fear, not just for the virus but for the decimation it’s caused in too many lives. 

 Much has been said right now about history, and how it will record the Senate’s decision to acquit Donald Trump of his obvious crimes. But history has a wide lens. It will also record the choices of people thrown together by the common tragedy of a pandemic that cares nothing about politics. It will record kindnesses, sacrifices, times when humanity drowned out hatred. 

 Like everyone who comes from a political family, America’s mood swings have filtered into my life in a personal way. I vividly remember some of the violent death threats against my father. Of late, in these hostile times, I’ve gotten some myself. But I also felt the swell of compassion when John Hinckley shot my father and three other men; I felt how political divides crumbled and humanity rose up, tear-stained and prayerful. Tip O’Neal knelt at my father’s bedside after the shooting and recited the 23rd Psalm with him. I felt it also after my father died, when Americans turned away from politics and mourned the passing of a good and decent man. 

 History is always being composed, and it sees everything. As dark as these times have been, there have been people who reached through that darkness and reminded others that we are all frail at times. Fear and grief cripple all of us in this life, and we are a stronger country when we remember that. Sometimes we can find those reminders in the simplest places – a pharmacy where people are waiting for a vaccine that will help end the long siege of fear we’ve all been going through. People who meet each other’s eyes over their masks and are somehow in that moment not strangers.

2 Responses to WHAT UNITES US

  1. Jonathan Moorehead says:

    How I long for the return to the balance of a sane Republican party that respects science, rule of law, Democracy and diversity.

  2. Joy kim says:

    Patti. I’m sorry to hear about the violent death threats. Disturbingly women in politics and journalism are the biggest targets .  We live in a sick world, literally and figuratively.

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