This column first appeared on the PerishablePundit.com
The year is over. The pandemic is not. But there is hope with the rapid rollout of new vaccines.
One of every 1,000 Americans has died and more than 74,000 in the UK, if not from COVID-19, certainly with COVID-19. To those of us old enough to have children or grandchildren, there is an odd solace in the idea that if someone has to go, it better be us older ones. Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren should come to know some of the joys that we, ourselves, have known. Oddly, this is the recompense this virus has given — to be different from the great World War I Spanish influenza that struck mostly young people in their prime, before they knew love or marriage or children or more.
In produce, we have mostly been lucky. People have to eat, so the industry is deemed essential. Business has gone on, and the retail sector boomed. Even those who had traditionally focused on foodservice have often found the inner resolve and the resourcefulness to move ahead. They went direct to consumers or found ways to be the retail hub for produce when retailers needed their warehouses and trucks for other needs.
We grew up in the midst of a family business that was located on a terminal market, and these markets can’t just have everyone work from home. Yet, in market after market, we’ve seen the same: They sent the older generation home and, with a bravery not fully appreciated, the young manned the lines, to keep the world fed.
In today’s world, it has not been glamorous to have a job at a supermarket, yet, all of the sudden, we saw countless young people — who in another generation would have lined up to enlist in the military — going to risk interaction, the medical teams and, yes, a simple retail food clerk.
This Pundit and the Jr. Pundits, all went to visit the Pundit Poppa and Momma at their graves. They are gone now and, normally, we would miss them and wish they were still with us. This year, though, we felt glad that they did not have to see this, to feel this… they did not have to know the loss, that they were spared.
We will have to consider how to organize ourselves better should we be confronted with a pandemic again. How do we justify keeping spare emergency room capacity, when we might not need it for 100 years? How do we make sure our political leaders are honest about what they know and what they do not? How do we make sure that politicians don’t take actions to make themselves seem active, even if the science is absent or weak?
Bad luck is as much a part of life as is good luck. So if a pandemic hits and people choose not to do something and that decision hurts a business, that is deeply sad, but part of life. Other businesses thrive because of the same happenstance. Yet, a restaurateur who is now bankrupt not because consumers elect not to buy but, rather, because he is ordered to close, a landlord who is bankrupt not because he can’t find paying tenants but because the landlord is obligated to pay taxes, maintenance, electric, etc., but is also compelled to allow people who don’t pay rent to stay in the apartments, poses a different challenge to society.
Would we be so quick to order landlords to tolerate non-paying tenants if each of us had to chip in to cover their rent? The question of how we want to help people who have lost their jobs and livelihood during a pandemic is a real and important one, but, surely, it cannot be a burden imposed randomly on some individuals and not on others. Why should a person whose business is renting out apartments contribute more to the public weal than someone whose business is food or clothing or banking?
The Pundit’s oldest son is in college, and he has done all his classes from his dorm room. His friend is a top tennis player but his unrecoverable youth is being lost as his school has cancelled sports. To us, the risks are real, but there is a loss in isolating people, denying them activities they value and interactions they crave. We would argue that this is not a decision for government or schools to make; the decision is for individuals.
Just as we know when we hand our children car keys, that there is risk, so is there a benefit, and just as we don’t ban driving even though we know people will die. How can we countenance our denying people the right to live their lives and take risks as they choose to do so.
These restrictions on activity are not neutral. An elderly person may have made his mark and his fortune, but a kid just out of school may be penniless — there is something profoundly unjust in declaring a pause, freezing activity. Many would be willing to take real risks to move ahead with their lives. How can we countenance a world where authorities claim the power to freeze everyone in place. It so offends justice, one senses we will pay for this approach for a very long time.
Yet, even in despair and stasis, we manage to move ahead. Not just with a new vaccine, but new technologies leapfrog ahead, and so we may not only prevent COVID-19, but find in these technologies ways of dealing with cancer, heart disease and other causes of loss and despair.
In this horrible darkness of despair, we seem likely to see shoots of green sprout. The losses are many and real, but as we turn to a new year, we also see the light of opportunity.
We must always remind ourselves of what really is important, what carries weight. Most of us are fortunate enough to see our children survive and thrive even in the midst of the pandemic. Others are not so fortunate. Children without Wi-Fi can’t go to school, parents who have to work and have no one to watch the kids have to make difficult choices. We are reminded that though we may see darkness, for others things can be darker still. Those of us in produce are fortunate to know that from the darkest of soils can spring the most energetic plants — stretching toward the sun even when blocked by obstacles.
Our people, our nation, coming from a deeply contested election, from a time of fear, shall yet move forward, shall yet prevail. For we create our own future in the morality of how we treat one another, in the science of how we create a new future and in the hope that we grant our children.
Wishing all a 2021 filled with hope, happiness and progress.