A wise man once told me that there is no joy without gratitude. Many of us, in the midst of this global pandemic, have not experienced much joy this year. Indeed, there are many commentaries about how tough this year has been on all of us. For a glimpse of some funny images just enter “2020 worst year images” in an internet search engine or use Google Trends to track the entry “worst year in history” from 2004 to today. Our troubles are on our mind.
Despite the absence of the kind of joy that has folks dancing down hallways of offices and schools, there is gratitude that each of us can feel. It requires a bit of reflection, admittedly.
Out of a period of intense criticism of scientific knowledge in this country, the scientific community has emerged as the savior of the ravages of the pandemic. So many of the vaccine breakthroughs can be easily traced to basic science research. The speed of applications so clearly depended on curiosity-driven research that preceded it. The value of basic research has been underscored. This speed relied on thousands of researchers re-orienting their research programs to focus on SARS CoV-2, disseminating their findings globally very quickly, sharing intermediate results, subordinating their selfish desire for fame to the search for effective therapeutics and vaccines. We can be deeply grateful for this.
Despite decades of underinvestment in the public health infrastructure, we have seen true heroism among the front-line nurses, EMS attendants, support staff, and physicians treating those COVID victims that require acute care. Many do their jobs without sufficient personal protective equipment. They are reusing face coverings and gowns because of lack of supplies. Many have themselves become infected. Too many have died helping others to survive. Take a moment to imagine the pandemic without them.
Because of the deep economic damages that the pandemic has inflicted throughout the world, families are suffering. The suffering is not evenly distributed. Professional and most “white collar” workers continue to do their jobs and receive their salaries, despite having to telework and endure endless Zoom sessions. But those on the front lines of delivering services in restaurants, hotels, dry cleaners, child care centers, retail brick and mortar stores, have disproportionately been laid off or furloughed. So, there are thousands of food banks that are attempting to supply food to those in need. While there is an overflow of volunteers to serve Thanksgiving dinners to the hungry, the need will continue into times when the media pay less attention to the problem. Those committed to these services are daily heroes.
Despite health risks, despite a deep recession, despite difficulties in voting, our national election produced more behaviors in support of the democracy on the part of American voters, more than 156 million votes cast. Their faith in the power of their votes, in the face of a global questioning of democracy, is gratifying.
Closer to home, there is a set of Georgetown staff whose jobs cannot be executed via telework. They cook and deliver meals to students and staff on campus. They clean the areas on campus occupied by students, researchers, and staff. They help implement the Georgetown Community Compact that involves face coverings, physical distancing, hand sanitizing, and frequent viral tests. They keep the physical plant in order. Many have arduous public transportation trips each day. We should be grateful for their commitment to the institution.
Of course, many other Georgetown staff who are teleworking are working longer hours. Some are not. But every decision taken by Georgetown has attempted to keep the community together, to avoid mass layoffs and furloughs. This has been effected only through shared sacrifice of all employees at Georgetown in foregone merit increases and retirement fund matches. We are grateful to an institution that lives such values.
2020 has been a terrible year. However, even in its worst moments or maybe because of its worst moments, gratitude can emerge, admittedly even without outright joy.