Learning to See

I’ve seen the lament for a while now. “Can we please have something in the news that isn’t about COVID-19?”

Be careful what you wish for.

By now, everyone’s heard the name George Floyd. By now, we’ve all had the opportunity to see his final moments. By now, outrage has turned into something more powerful, launching protests and riots across the country.

It’s a rage that has proved stronger than even coronavirus caution. Yes, the virus doesn’t care about justice or race, just opportunities (and sadly, it will be heard). But when you fear that friends and family may be killed now, are being killed now, the fear of what may happen two weeks from now has less power  to hold someone back.

It’s an outbreak of a different sort. An all-too familiar sort.

And like every outbreak, it’s the result of a sickness that has been ignored.

Those  of  us who have the luxury of not confronting racism on a regular basis can find it easy to turn away all together. To decide it’s a problem we’ve solved or at least something on the way out. *We’re* healthy, so this “virus” couldn’t be all that bad, right?

Except we know better. Whether we want to admit it or not.

Anyone remember the dog leash? It was only a few days ago, the black birdwatcher in Central Park who told a white dog-walker to keep her dog on a leash. Her response was to call the police and say she’d been threatened.

Nobody does that if they don’t think they’ll be believed. If they don’t believe the police will be on their side.

Had there not been video, she might have been right.

I’m not going to get drawn into the argument about “not all cops.” Yes, I know a number of good officers and that’s not the point I’m making here. This isn’t just about the bad actors. It’s about the people who looked away, in or out of uniform, until something finally happened that couldn’t be ignored. Who didn’t see the warning signs – even with 18 prior complaints, as with this officer –  or chose not to.

We see what we want to see. But reality doesn’t care what we want.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the Age of Corona, we should have learned that.

We’ve been hearing this for months when it comes to the virus. Be aware. Look for who’s vulnerable and help them. Take steps to protect your neighbor, even when it’s uncomfortable. Don’t create an opportunity for infection to spread.

It hasn’t been easy. But a lot of us have done it. Because even the measures that don’t benefit us individually have a powerful effect when they protect our neighbor. And we’re all somebody’s neighbor.

If all of us look out for all of us, then all of us benefit.

Now it’s time to apply those lessons beyond epidemiology.

When a disease is left unchecked, it spreads. When an evil is left unconfronted, it grows. In both cases, the worst outbreaks come when opportunities to stop it at an earlier stage were ignored.

And the only way we bring both to heel is to see beyond our needs. To look beyond our own comfort. To remember that we’re only as healthy, safe and free as the person next to us.

Even before coronavirus, we knew this. These are ancient reminders, to love our neighbor and lift up those in need. They’re not new … they’re just not easy.

But if we were to follow them – to see, to listen, to truly help – that would be a headline worthy of the front page.

That would be everything we wished for. And more.