We are just about half way through 2020, and the anxiety is high. It’s hurricane season again, though this time in the midst of the worst global pandemic in our lifetime, Coronavirus/COVID 19. Many of us still have vividly chilling memories of Hurricanes Irma and Maria from almost three (3) years ago. Nonetheless, we are blessed in so many ways by the grace of God to have survived the fury of those storms, though for many with only the clothes on our backs and the overwhelming outpouring of recovery support from friends, family and other good Samaritans from around the world. Day-by-day we continue to grapple with the stress and strain of losing loved ones, homes, businesses, jobs and our physical, emotional and mental health. As a community, though, we heralded New Year’s Day 2020 as a beacon point for pulling our lives back together and getting “back to normal.”
So much for that; now that the first half of 2020 is about to be retired, whatever notion of “back to normal” has been replaced by a “new normal” that is unpredictable, nuanced and highly volatile. Record-breaking unemployment, abrupt closures of schools, universities, churches, restaurants and other businesses, in addition to beaches and other public places, have become commonplace over the past few months. Social distancing, facial masks, work from home, online education and virtual graduations have become part and parcel of the “new normal” to which most, if not all, of us have little, if any control.
During this time, we have been introduced to distance grieving of loved ones’ funerals through Facebook Live. We now visit parents, grandchildren or children by ZOOM, if not from inside our vehicles while talking through rolled down car windows from at least ten (10) feet away. We are redefining what it means to be “social beings” under the present circumstances. While this occurs, we find ourselves forced to refine our relationships with one another, the world at large and the environment.
In this moment in history, we are forced once again to confront fundamental differences in equity, which like the magma of a volcano have been slowly boiling beneath the surface of American life for generations after generations. Most recently this social volcano had erupted in mass demonstration and public discourse across the country and throughout the world. Social justice, personal responsibility, race relations, climate change and the economy have been propelled to the forefront of the American and world consciousness. They are also front and center in what is projected to be highly contentious national and local election year politics.
As the last lap months of 2020 commence on July 1st, every man, woman or child in the territory, whether young or old, instinctively recognizes that the “new normal” requires each one of us to step forward, be counted and decide what role we will play in preserving each other’s safety, the safety of our island home and in determining our future. It requires each of us to be active and proactive. Standing on the stoop or soap box, while proclaiming that the sky has fallen without being active doers of anything constructive only adds to the anxiety. Amidst the uncertainty of 2020, we are also assured of certain time-endured Virgin Islands core values: respect given is respect received; every voice has a right to speak freely; every ear has the right to interpret what has been spoken; basic fairness is a guarantee and no one is regarded as more valuable than the next.
In the end, when the dust settles, the “new normal” must reflect a dignified balance of our core values and the various differences that must be navigated and negotiated as Americans and as a Virgin Islands community. Whether it’s the “back to normal” or the “new normal,” when the dust settles, we are still in this together. “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable” — (Bondei Proverb).
Editor’s note: Moleto A. Smith Jr., a St. Thomas resident, is the executive director of the St. Thomas East End Medical Center Corporation.