A few months ago, my beloved country, America, was the envy of the world – strong economy, low unemployment and clear prosperity. It has always been the kindest country. A country with a heart. Our wealth and strength gave us a sense of superiority and invincibility. Things were rosy and full of optimism.
Then the challenges started to break that façade layer by layer. The coronavirus, a tiny pathogen, started to spread across the land in relentless waves of death and disease. And in the course of four short months, our country lost more than 100,000 people to that tiny invader.
We represent about 4% of world population but we have about 30% of the infected cases in the world and about a third of the dead. And it was clear that we did not do that good of a job. Our strength and wealth did not form a solid wall to protect us from being affected so badly. Tragically, that infection had more lethal impact on the African-American and native American communities.
That boasting about being the strongest and the richest country crumpled in the face of the wide spread of the deadly infection. We appeared inept and unable to control the pandemic. Many smaller, less rich countries – with far fewer resources – did a much better job in galvanizing their effort to control the spread of this virus. In each of those countries, the difference was not in the available supplies or better hospitals, but it was due to a more determined leadership that had clarity of purpose and laser-focused and concentrated effort to control the infection.
The images of nursing staff using trash bags as protective shields in New York city hospitals were both comic and tragic. Where was the wealth? Where was the strength? Where was the boasting?
As our country was coming out of the quarantine, another sinister enemy attacked us. That enemy was not from outside. It is an endemic pathogen called “racism.” The images of Mr. George Floyd dying as Minneapolis police officers kneeled on him, with one officer’s knee pushing against his neck, were difficult to watch. Mr. Floyd’s plea to the police officers to get off him while he repeatedly told them that he could not breathe was heartbreaking.
The response to this abhorrent crime has not been peaceful at all. In many American cities, thousands demonstrated. Most of the time the demonstrations started peacefully. Then they turned violent and destructive. Police precincts and cars were set afire, stores were destroyed and looted. The images were truly ugly. This is not the way to show your frustration and anger. Destroying properties takes away from the nobility of making your voice heard.
Most of the TV images from the last four months did not appear to belong to our beautiful, great country. They could be coming from Venezuela or Congo; they seemed to be foreign to our country.
To protest an injustice is allowed, even encouraged. But destroying properties is not. The destructive nature of these riots does not serve the cause of justice and equality.
And for the past four months, our dirty laundry was in sharp focus – signaling to the whole world that we are not as smart as we had thought, not as competent as we had imagined, not as organized as we had envisioned, not as united as our name implied, and not as fair as we had dreamed. It looks like our two enemies of 2020, the virus and the racism, exposed our weaknesses, our disorganization and our lack of unity.
It was so easy to fall into a depressive mood with all these challenges facing our country at the same time. Then came the flawless launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, taking two astronauts to the International Space Station – for the first time in nine years using an American rocket launched from American soil.
It was a clear reminder that this is our America. The one we fell in love with and have been proud of. It demonstrated, at least for a short while, that we still have what it takes. In the midst of the state of despair and darkness, came a ray of sunlight giving us a fresh hope that we will come out of these challenges OK.
One of the most impressive qualities of our country is our ability to acknowledge our mistakes and correct them. This does not mean that our other problems are gone, but it demonstrates that we have the ability to face challenges, especially when we work together with mutual respect and appreciation.
My beloved country: You don’t deserve this.
For centuries you opened your arms to millions of people from every race, ethnicity, religion and social background. And your children have hurt you. All of us take responsibility for what is happening. We are not innocent bystanders. We need to root out all the racist tendencies in our society and our hearts. We should address any injustice as it really is: Ugly, stupid, destructive and unacceptable.
Very clearly among the violent protests going across our land, the clear eloquent voice of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was reverberating inside my head: “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; Only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Love, indeed, is what we need now.