Sunday, May 16, 2021

COVID Forgetting

New cases and infections have dropped drastically here in New Jersey as vaccinations have gone up. My kids are back in school and more and more of my students are opting to come in. It feels like we have finally turned a corner.

As is natural in a traumatized people after months of fear and death, just about everyone is ready to forget all of this and move on with their lives. I understand the impulse, but I think it will continue to allow people who did some truly terrible things to get let off of the hook. 

We've been here before, of course. The traitors responsible for the Confederate rebellion and this country's deadliest war never faced punishment for their nefarious deeds. The slave labor camp masters still got to keep their land. After the civil rights movement only a smattering of the acts of horrific violence committed by the Klan and its allies in law enforcement were punished. Richard Nixon never spent a day jail for Watergate, George W Bush got to launder his image in retirement instead of facing war crimes charges. America is incapable of punishing its high malefactors of power because to do so would mean admitting that this nation is indeed not the land of the free and home of the brave.

We have already forgotten the how the last president's behavior cost hundreds of thousands of lives. He tried to pretend the virus wasn't happening, then promised a reopening in April of last year. He told people to inject bleach. He failed to create any kind of national policy, lazily giving responsibility to the states. He openly discussed denying aid to states with Democratic governors, forcing them to grovel while their people were dying. 

The whole time his rank and file conservative supporters have been repeating the same mantra: "it's not a big deal!" They have expressed far more consternation and anger over having to wear masks than the deaths of over 600,000 of their fellow Americans. Last March it was "this is no worse than the flu" and then it became "it only hurts those who are sick and old" to now basically ignoring the deaths. 

Well I do not aim to forget. I will never forget that when hundreds of people were dying every day here in New Jersey last spring there were conservatives complaining about "blue state bailouts" and the president making my governor humiliate himself to keep my fellow New Jerseyans alive. I may be capable of forgiving people I love when they stayed silent while my family and I were being endangered by the man they voted for. But I will not forget it. Never never never. 

I won't forget how the local school board and teacher's union heads completely failed to find a workable solution this year, delaying my children's return to the classroom to May 3. I won't forget the people who behaved irresponsibly during the winter surge, helping the virus infect more people because going to brunch was oh so important. I won't forget how many of my friends and acquaintances felt free to slag teachers to my face with the patronizing assumption that I was "one of the good ones." I won't forget how employers did absolutely nothing to consider the burdens of working parents with "essential" jobs, sticking us with unbelievable stress and painful financial costs. I won't forget the people who cared more about having to wear a mask than the piles of dead bodies all around them. I won't forget the colleagues who stayed at home even after they were vaccinated while I was commuting for three hours a day every damn day and eating thousands of dollars in child care costs and doing the extra labor of watching over their virtual classroom for them. 

I can forgive, and in many of these cases, I already have. But I will not forget. Not now, not ever.

But there are other things I won't forget. I won't forget how responsible and patient my children have been this last year under terrible circumstances. I won't forget the help we received from my in-laws, friends, and neighbors. I won't forget how hard most of my colleagues have worked to make hybrid and distance learning as close to what students are missing as possible. I won't forget the 98% of subway riders who have been willing to mask up. I won't forget the breaks and random acts of kindness I have received from my superiors at my job. Most of all, I won't forget the engagement and effort from my students, without which teaching in this way never would have been possible. 

We must remember the good and the bad, and resist the urge to look away. If not, we will never fix what's wrong or derive needed inspiration from what we did right. 

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