A quick sweep of the news can leave the impression that protesters speaking out about COVID-19 are most outraged because Go. Tim Walz has vindictively kept them from their regular hair appointments.
This is unfortunate reporting. Our leaders, tasked with making decisions that will affect millions every day, need forbearance, discernment and compassion to make good decisions, and I hope they have them. We need not personally attack or judge their intentions to question their decisions. And indeed, there are many good questions that this unprecedented situation raises — questions that deserve frank and respectful discussion and media attention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical community’s clear intention and priority is to save physical lives, and in order to do that, to keep their system functioning properly. They have spoken loudly and compellingly to this end, as is their prerogative.
However, others need to be part of the conversation, as well, and other questions need to be asked. For me, one of the most intriguing questions that emerges is the question of life itself. I would start by asking if we are using language properly. Are the lives of very elderly people living out the last stages of their journey on this earth being “saved?” Or are they being “prolonged?”
Furthermore, do seniors want their lives saved/prolonged? What if that means bankruptcy, debt, unemployment and pain for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren? Have we asked them? Parents and grandparents have always, and often, sacrificed their health, their material comfort, and even their lives to create a better world for their progeny. I suspect elderly people today are no less generous than their forebears and would voluntarily isolate themselves at great length to release younger generations to go to school and work.
A little over a year ago we said our final goodbyes to my father-in-law. He was 92 years old. His passing was many things, but one thing it was not was tragic, and I would question the use of that word to describe many of those dying.
Not being present at the end, and being forbidden to intimately care for my mother-in-law through the transition to widowhood, however, would have been excruciating with long-term repercussions. Which brings me to another question: Is the mandate that babies are born and people die without loved ones present acceptable in an egalitarian society? Should fear of contagion override these vital human interactions?
And even if it does, then we can ask are the measures we are taking working? Might they be lengthening some lives but shortening others due to stress, poverty, isolation, worsening mental or physical chronic conditions or neglect?
Nobody knows the answer to that final question, which is why COVID-19 has put such a strain on decision-makers who must act without full information. They can and should change course as more knowledge is gained. It’s up to us to promote a meaningful, respectful conversation that includes not just the simple equation of how heavily to weigh “saving lives” against untested shut-down measures.
We need to speak courageously from our hearts about the relative value, and the importance of other factors like schooling, camping, worshiping, playing, working and meeting together — wholly independent of the value of a paycheck or the economy. And it needs to be reiterated, because we are prone to forget, that we cannot control when our lives will end. Remembering this, and appealing to our courage and strength when times are tough, will help shield us from fear-based decision-making.
Neither fear of the virus nor fear of the judgment of others should keep us from respectfully questioning COVID-19 guidelines as they evolve. In Minnesota, we hear appeals every day to submit our concerns and opinions. Do it distastefully and you alienate all the people who might take your side, but do it well and COVID-19 can become the catalyst for some very important conversations.
Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.