The Bourdon bell in Washington National Cathedral – the heaviest in its Kibbey Carillon, rang for presidents and patriots, regardless of politics and out of devotion to the ideals of the republic – rang 700 times on Tuesday evening to honor the 700,000 American lives lost in the pandemic. We are approaching a loss that is double that suffered in the defense of freedom and against the fascist scourge of World War II.
One of the great achievements of the 20th century – the American Century – has been a national commitment to public health. This commitment eradicated polio, tuberculosis and advanced medical sciences to a degree that could not have been anticipated as recently as 1969, when my father graduated from medicine and began a career of half a year. -th century as a healing servant in his beloved northern New Jersey. suburb.
When my mother was pregnant with me, she got infected with mumps while working as a guidance counselor at a school in North Jersey. She had survived a severe case of measles as a child and luckily survived a time of real danger, for which I am deeply grateful.
My father, for his part, was a deeply religious Presbyterian who was able to reconcile the Lord’s blessing of science with his unwavering faith.
It goes without saying that in our house vaccines were considered a necessity and obligation, not only for the good of our family but for the good of our community.
My parents were married in love for each other and for Wharton, their hometown in Morris County – not in politics. Ellen and Ted Forbes came of age in the early 1960s, my father as Barry Goldwater’s Republican and my mother as a staunch supporter of Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. They had little agreement on the national political debates of my childhood in the 1980s and 1990s – with the exception of the talented Clintons, the first of their baby boomer peers to reach the highest levels of American political life.
Their political discord was easily overcome by a dedication to community and service to others.
This spirit touched me on Tuesday night as the cathedral bell rang at a sad hour in which our nation marked a regrettable and avoidable milestone. I remembered my parents, both gone now, and what I imagine they might have been their reaction to the pandemic. They would have supported the vaccine. They would have supported the public health measures taken to ensure our defeat in the face of the pandemic.
I certainly do.
As the bell sent its last bursts, I realized that my patience for ignorance, stubbornness, and adherence to lies was at an end.
The old push and pull between America’s ideals of freedom and fairness – between personal choice and the greater good – is totally out of place in the debate over ending the pandemic.
One of the things the American experience has lost is a commitment to a common set of facts reported by professional practitioners of the American press across all media. A shared understanding of current affairs has given tremendous strength to the progress made in the twentieth century. While this progress is imperfect, it is still ongoing – and our disparate realities threaten our national history.
I ask you to trust my colleagues in the press – in our community and metro newspapers, our radio stations and our television stations – and the truths they speak.
Demagoguery on both sides of the cable news aisle has blood on its light-stained hands.
The disinformation spread by the titans of Silicon Valley is also drenched in the needlessly spilled blood of 700,000 of my compatriots.
Twenty months now.
My two daughters – Caroline, 8, and Julia, 4 – have had 20 months of disruption. Twenty months of scares, exposures and quarantines and finally, hope because of the relentless triumph of the American ingenuity that produced the vaccines.
A third child on the way may never know an America that can put its shoulder to the front of a common goal for the common good.
We must rise up to become the America of the possible – the welcoming beacon of hope and progress the world has always needed.
This is the America my parents could believe in – and they did.
This is the America my grandparents wore uniforms for and worked hard for at the Picatinny Arsenal during WWII and beyond.
It was America that rose up in united resolve after the great tragedy of the youth of my generation 20 years ago on September 11.
How can it be that we, the children of this imperfect but consistent 20th century in America, find ourselves unable to move forward in unison to meet the challenge of the pandemic?
How come we dismiss and forget the hard-fought and painful wounds of Triumph over Darkness to prove desirability and optimism to our world?
We would do well to remember that.
We would do well to remember those stories of parachuting into northern France in the dark of night and the agonizing push to victory over Iwo Jima.
We would do well to remember the beloved aunt whose life was spared by the penicillin miracle.
With the resolution of memory, we can move forward to face the struggle. Considerable work needs to be done to perfect the America that I know and have benefited from – and that all should know and benefit from.
Our shared memory can light the way. We must look over our shoulders to seize the torches of progress and justice that have guided us before – and still can.
Let us honor our neighbors, colleagues and loved ones lost in this pandemic.
Let’s do it that way.
Ed Forbes is the Atlantic Group Editor-in-Chief of the USA TODAY Network, overseeing the opinion of news outlets in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we experience life in the Northeast, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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