What can we be thankful for?

In Wim Wenders’s award winning 1987 film Wings of Desire (Himmel über Berlin), renowned actor Bruno Ganz plays an angel who sheds his wings and joins the seething mass of humanity in troubled pre-1989 Berlin. He’s fallen in love with the lovely Solveig Dommartin, who plays a trapeze artist.

Before he takes that step, however, he finds himself hovering, invisible, over none other than Peter Falk (of Colombo fame) who’s come to Berlin to shoot a film. It’s late at night, and Falk is at an Imbissstand, drinking coffee. We learn immediately that Falk himself has earlier taken the same leap from the heavens. Falk, his wings long gone, can still sense the invisible presence and says:

I can’t see you but I know you’re there…

Falk later offers guidance to Ganz, giving him just enough of a start to get him going in his new earthbound life.

None of us are Colombo, however, and it has gotten tiresome, frustrating, and enervating to constantly do battle with an invisible enemy. This is, thankfully, not World War II London during the Blitz with the constant audible and visual, even if unpredictable, presence of the enemy. Yet some of us think that COVID-19 is something that other people get, and then there are the maskless who want to joust with the masked. Plenty of confusion to go around.

It’s also been hard to keep perspective while being buffeted by so many crosswinds, so many tragic events to remind us again and again that Black Lives Matter, and a tiring, often turbulent and disturbing election cycle, with so much anger in play.

And as we progress through the pandemic, often just when things seem to be reaching a level of predictable confusion, there’s a new twist and suddenly we start missing the good old New Normal we knew before.

So where are we now?

With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror and with the first ever New Normal December holiday season upon us, it’s worth pausing to reflect on what we do have and even some things we have gained since March 2020.

The center really does hold:

Despite all the panic and chaos that this very frightening pandemic has generated, we can be thankful for the many instances of strong and committed local leadership, setting in motion teams who are willing to listen to scientific advice and act on it.

At the very molecular level, we note that people still stop for red lights, drive on the righthand side of the road, eat with forks and knives (and visit liquor stores).

People are doing some pretty amazing things

In the midst of all the confusion and uncertainty, there have been some remarkable contributions, spontaneous efforts that no one commanded into being, that have everything to do with the common good and nothing to do with personal gain.

In March of this year, HeroGuards was formed in Boston to procure and distribute low cost personal protective equipment to healthcare organizations like the Leahy Clinic in Burlington MA, the Jewish Health care in Worcester MA, and several nursing homes in Norwell and Beverly MA.

In Alpharetta, Georgia a group of high school students, led by 16 year old Edward Aguilar, banded together to create Paralink, a volunteer driven distribution supply chain system for delivery of PPE and other supplies. Paralink has attracted both corporate sponsorships and national media attention, including this NPR interview.

In the Bay Area, a group of philanthropists including Megan Pi (ex-Google) joined together in early 2020 to create HumankindNOW, a 501(c)3 non-profit that harnesses technology and human kindness to deliver critical PPE and services to healthcare workers in small businesses and underserved communities.
You can find out more about them here.

The Berkshires are a shining example

We can find plenty of panic, discord, disruption, and despair without looking too far. But these difficult moments have also elicited kindness, cooperation, sacrifice, and ingenuity.

Many of these moments and events have been announced and captured in the newsletters of Kate Abbott ’00 on her wonderful website, btwberkshires.com.

Here’s just one example of what you’ll find:

We have a (whole) New Normal vocabulary:

Forget dimpled chad, we’ve been gifted with a sudden wealth of new vocabulary, concepts, terms, and expressions like Blursday, flattening the curve, herd immunity, and that’s just the beginning. See how many of these you recognize…

zoonotic, longhauler, asymptomatic transmission, cytokine storm, hygiene theater, aerosol regime, droplet, viral load, shelter in place, PPE, N95 (not a highway), SARS-Cov-2, social distancing, drive-through testing, ventilator, respirator, intubation, immunocompromised, contact tracing, incubation period, antigen, pathogen, patient zero, R-naught, HEPA filters, and ACH (air change rate).

Another plus: there’s special new brand of humor: COVID-19 videos and cartoons

The sound of one hand washing:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

Many of us 68ers have reconnected and continue to connect through one form of technology or other. Classmates have rekindled old friendships, and as more and more clusters form and interact, new friendships emerge. And these aren’t just one-offs, there are several Zoom sessions (wasn’t there an expression a while ago called bull session?) that repeat regularly. Hopkins House has a good track record in this trend, may others join in and help keep spirits high.


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