Aging with Dignity’s Washington office is six blocks from the White House. I decided to go for a stroll this morning to take stock of the city on the eve of national elections. You might expect the streets to be bustling with activity today before such a momentous day, but you’d be mistaken. Most of the downtown offices are empty, and have been since March. The only people laboring in haste are the workers boarding up ground-floor windows.
District of Columbia businesses fear that mayhem is coming or they wouldn’t be fortifying storefronts. My friends James and Jessica – a Korean couple who own and operate a deli in our building – are trying to make a living while navigating the dangerous terrain that comes with proximity to the White House. They had a brick thrown through their window during the summer protests and they want to prevent a recurrence of loss.
It is worth pausing to ask: How did our beloved country get to the point where the divisions among us have become so grave and personal that violence is now an acceptable response? What happened to the great commandment to love God with our whole heart and soul, and love our neighbors as ourselves?
As I looked at the boarded-up businesses, and pondered the fears that led owners like my friends to take such drastic actions, I thought of the elderly living in residential care facilities. They, too, have had their lives boarded up. Society has had the admirable desire to protect these vulnerable groups from the spread of COVID, and rightly so, because the data shows that they constitute the single most at-risk groups in America.
But the consequences and casualties of social distancing and isolation of our elderly continue to mount. Over the weekend, the New York Times wrote a heartbreaking story on the effects of systematically isolating the elderly in long-term care facilities, entitled, “’A Slow Killer: Nursing Home Residents Wither in Isolation Forced by the Virus.” The collateral damage identified in this piece have been the subject of this blog for some time. That is why I advocate in favor of the “focused protection” strategy that the Great Barrington Declaration signatories advocate to combat the pandemic.
There are no easy answers to the dilemma of keeping the elderly protected without cutting off their life lines to friends and families. But we should at least be identifying best practices in America that strike the most humane balances. It is a given that prudent sanitation and screening practices of employees should continue. But on the question of allowing human interaction for elderly residents, it seems to me that a one-size-fits-all approach in care facilities, doesn’t fit all. Some seniors would rather accept the risk of possibly getting COVID than be cut-off from the human family. They miss the warmth of human touch. They long to see familiar faces. The approach of winter and the expected increase in COVID cases should not automatically trigger another Ice Age for seniors in long-term care, or those living on their own.
America can’t board itself up as a way to cope with the real challenges we face. We have to work through public health, social, political and economic issues thoughtfully. This can only happen when we have respect for each other, and agree that reasonable disagreement is possible in a democratic republic. Our Judeo-Christian tradition provides wisdom and guidance, and is grounded in the firm belief that each of us is a child of God, molded in God’s image and likeness, and that each is a gift, not a burden. That belief is particularly true for life in its most fragile stages.
Love vs. fear
In my opinion, the election tomorrow will settle nothing. The divisions within our country are painfully bare. As I wrote in the last blog post, the challenges before us as a country are fundamentally spiritual in nature, not political. Without a belief in the primacy of God, and therefore, the primacy of love, society will face the temptation to use force, violence and contempt to resolve conflicts, and in the process, human dignity will be threatened, if not degraded. Paul of Tarsus reminds us that “Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…Love never fails.”
The stark choice America faces tomorrow is not between Donald J. Trump and Joe Biden, but between love and fear. Our country must decide if we are going to awaken spiritually or continue to “forget God” and place ourselves as sovereign and almighty. The elderly, disabled and mentally ill have a huge stake in our choosing correctly for, as we know, elections have consequences.