The pandemic has provided us with a newfound respect for one another
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In times of crisis, the best and worst aspects of humanity are often on full display. As individuals, families, communities, and ultimately as a nation, it is up to us how we choose to respond to this chaos and grief. We have a choice. And I want us to choose to move forward together. Tragedies rip us out of our current mindsets and throw us into an unknown, unpredictable world. That is where we are now, completely grounded in uncertainty. This is a curse and a blessing.

Sadly, the curse of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it will touch the lives of every single person in this nation. We will all have a shared experience of grief. For some it may be the loss of a loved one that had to die alone while others may feel a sense of loss for what life was supposed to be this year. Nonetheless, this provides an opportunity to reevaluate what truly matters in our lives and how we can find a newfound respect for one another.

The blessing is we are starting to see a shifting of perspective. The tragedy has moved people away from the ego based materialism of modern America to a greater awareness of our connection to others. There is an enhanced appreciation for all of the workers we took for granted just a few short months ago. We see a new respect and admiration for educators like my wife, who teaches first grade. Parents are amazed at how teachers do this day in and day out. Often, the message is the same: “How do you do this with thirty kids? I am struggling to do this with one.” But it is not just teachers. Will we ever walk through the grocery line again without realizing the value of the cashier, the farmer, the farm worker, the processing plant employee, or the truck driver who delivers the food?

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This pandemic has given us an opportunity to see how others live their lives and do their work. While some have been able to stay at home and work remotely, others do not have that luxury. This virus has pulled back the curtain on the severe economic inequality in this country. It has shown us that these jobs —the jobs that we often took for granted, are the ones keeping our country going during this time of crisis. But behind these jobs, are people. People who go to work each day, play by the rules, put their lives and their families lives at risk. Unfortunately, many of these essential jobs pay very low wages.

In my own congressional District, we have seen ordinary people do extraordinary things. For example, Jennifer Campbell in Trumbull County has organized to support both take-out restaurants and the medical profession in providing meals with money she raised. Dr. Rajiv Taneja, a dentist in Mahoning County, is running a similar program supporting restaurants and providing meals to working medical personnel. Crystal Schuler, a nurse on the front lines in Akron, continues to risk her own safety by comforting COVID-19 victims who would otherwise be alone in their final moments. Youngstown native Renee Cafaro started a campaign in New York City to help feed EMT’s on the frontline.

Throughout history, our nation has always used great tragedies as an opportunity to come together and to unite as a nation. Some of our greatest cultural and political shifts have come out of a crisis. In the aftermath of World War II, FDR’s New Deal helped bring the country out of economic collapse and created new social programs that lifted up workers with such things as pensions, unemployment compensation, and Social Security. President Eisenhower provided the leadership for the Interstate Highway system, President Kennedy led us to the moon, and President Johnson’s Great Society brought landmark bills such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. The list could go on and on.

These successes were inspired by fearless leaders who promoted a sense of togetherness. Leaders that put the needs of the country first. They recognized that the nation was watching them, and their actions and words mattered. As such, they would set the tone that would guide the people forward. We need courage, not bravado. We want honesty, not deluded happy talk. We want a president that brings us together, not one who tries at every turn to tear us apart.

So let us choose to shift our culture in a fundamental way by small acts of service and kindness in our own communities. Let us act in ways that acknowledge how deeply connected we really are. Let us appreciate the little things in life that bring us joy, a walk in the park with our spouse, a family dinner, board games, listening to music and yes, a cocktail hour, even if it’s virtual. Like Sinatra sang “life is meant for living”, but it’s only joyful when it is filled with love and deep connection to each other.  That is what I’m choosing. I hope you do too.

Ryan represents Ohio’s 13th District.