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Along with the rest of the entire world I am COVID-weary, wrung out, spent. Never had I imagined the collision of life and pestilence that has been (and continues) changing our lifestyles and culture forever. There’s talk about a “new normal” coming but normal itself will never have the same meaning.

Our country is reeling with COVID’s impact on every level. Where we go from here remains to be seen. In the meantime it’s vitally important to consider the lessons we need to learn from COVID’s devastation – we as a nation, in particular.

The virus has exposed an Achilles’ heel or two in the great experiment of democracy and, perhaps, even in our Constitution, if not in its wording, in its individual interpretations. “Words don’t mean; people do” is an axiom in communication theory. Unfortunately, during this crisis, many people’s meanings of words crucial to our wellbeing far too often have had tragic consequences.

Independence and freedom are words that some call the “god terms” of our country. Each has its own power and challenge, like all ideals. They are foundational not only to our governing system but also to the so-called American Dream and, thus, every American’s expectations.

The reverse of the Lincoln cent displays the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” (U.S. mint photo)

The COVID virus has sounded an alert about how that dream can become a nightmare.
“E Pluribus Unum” means “Out of many, one.” It is the early motto of our country, later replaced by “In God We Trust.” In it, “one” does not mean “me”; it means “we.” It’s the same with independence and freedom; both are “we” words, requiring both consciousness of and responsibility to others. COVID is showing us that when we become self-centered, excluding others for the sake of personal entitlement, our god terms become devilish.

“Don’t Tread On Me,” the Gadsden flag of 1775 during the American Revolution, originated in South Carolina and spoke for all 13 colonies. Its “me” meant “us.” And please take note: it’s “We, the People,” not “Me, the People.”

Somehow in these still-young years of our nation, the ideals of our Founding Fathers and all the splendors of the American Dream have begun to fade in the blinding glow of self-interest and individual entitlements.

Is this the wake-up call COVID could be all about? Perhaps at the moment we as a people are too worn down by the virus’ ravages to hear it, to pay attention to its lessons. But sooner, rather than later, we as a people need to heed it.

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