Finding Gratitude in the days of COVID-19

Hello, everyone!

First, an apology. As frequent readers know, my full-time job is to serve as a State Representative in Pennsylvania. The reason I haven’t blogged for the past two weeks is because of that. For obvious reasons, that job takes precedence over just about every other aspect of my life. And, as you can imagine, it has been a whirlwind. The state of Pennsylvania has seen a slow burn of Corona cases, like every other state. We had to shut down my legislative office and have spent a ton of effort and energy trying to help constituents, particularly those who have found themselves newly unemployed. It has been tragic and awful, and we’re doing everything we can to help people.

Anyway, that has taken up huge chunks of my time, and I didn’t have the mental energy to figure out how to blog. I apologize for that.

But, we’re settling in for the long haul here. So, hello again!

If you are reading this, I am sure that your life has been dramatically impacted by COVID-19. You may be stuck in a stay at home state (I’m in a stay-at-home county), be telecommuting or one of the millions of Americans who are newly unemployed. You may be sick or have a loved one who is suffering from this. It may be you.

These are uncertain, terrifying times. And, unfortunately, we’re only at the beginning. I hate typing that. I hate knowing that some of you probably just read that sentence and winced. Unfortunately, we have to be prepared for the days ahead.

Thankfully, while this is terrifying, there are many ways that you can retain a locus of control over this thing. It’s really simple: If you can stay at home, stay at home. Every first responder and expert is clear.

Not everyone has that luxury. Medical staff, first responders, government employees, and store employees are putting themselves in the line of fire so we can all live. They deserve our unending gratitude.

That, actually, is what I wanted to write about today. Gratitude.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people are talking about mental health and caring for it during this outbreak. People seem to be more understanding than ever about the mental health strain that this outbreak will cause everyone. We’re all scared about our own health, that of our loved ones and society in general. I think people fundamentally understand the pain that will come.

There are many ways to cope with this ongoing pandemic, and they have been expounded upon by people who are much smarter than me. But I wanted to talk about one thing today, and give one specific piece of advice.

As best you can, operate from a position of gratitude during the next few weeks.

Crises bring out the best and the worst of people. There’s no question about that. But I want to focus on the best. I want to focus on the selfless efforts of countless individuals who are going to work – putting themselves at risk – because they must. The doctors, first responders, and clerks who are in the line of fire, who are caring for people who may get them sick.

In the Lehigh Valley, a group of volunteers stopped everything they were doing. In under a week, they produced hundreds of masks to protect first responders. Their effort is heroic. And it’s being replicated everywhere, in almost every American community.

Many corporations – normally the villains of our society – have stepped up in a big, big way. There are countless examples. In the Lehigh Valley, we have Fanatics, a company that normally produces uniforms for Major League Baseball. They are pivoting to face masks, and they are absorbing all costs. They’re actually starting with whatever fabrics they have…and that means that they are, quite literally, going to be making masks from material that otherwise would have gone to baseball uniforms. Yes, you may see a Doctor with a pinstripe mask.

As a State Representative, I’ve spent the past two weeks working with government employees to help constituents. I’ve had to warn off ticketing agencies, work with local officials, and in one bizarre moment, tell a contractor that yes, they could finish installing the toilet they were working on in someone’s house. Don’t ask.

But in virtually everyone of those instances, I have been so impressed by the folks who I work with. The government staff (you know, the ones derisively referred to as bureaucrats) have been so, so selfless. My staff has been wonderful. The folks on committees I work with (like Labor and Industry, which deals with unemployment) have been exceeding the bar. We get it. Our work determines unemployment checks, the success or failure of businesses. We have to be more aggressive than ever in helping people. And we will be.

I know this one is has been longer than my entries usually are. That’s because I can’t compress gratitude into less than 500 words. Yes, this is a terrifying time, one that is causing massive spikes in depression, anxiety, and isolation.

But if you need a reason to be hopeful, look at human nature. Look at the way so many people have risen above their usual stations in life to help others. Look at the innovation, entrepreneurship and charitable donations. Look at the outpouring of volunteerism – our local Meals on Wheels told me that they had weeks of drivers, more than they possibly needed, and all because of this.

Yes, people are being scumbags. Yes, people are being exploitative. But for every one bad story, there are ten good ones.

In these dark times, we all need a light. Focus on the good happening. Remember that if you were in trouble, there are people who would risk their own lives to save you, a stranger. Think of all the people from all works of life who are working hard and risking themselves to keep society going, even in this tough time. Let that thought fill you like a warm fire. Humans are good. Corona proves it. And keep that in mind in the tough days and weeks and months ahead.

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