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Thistlethwaite: ‘Get it yourself’ is the wrong response

“We’ll get through this together” is the right response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the chronic shortages of crucial equipment.

But instead, President Trump’s recent response on a conference call to the nation’s governors was “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,”

That is the exactly wrong response to model for the nation. This is akin to Trump saying “I don’t take responsibility at all” when asked about all the missteps of his administration that have resulted in the lack of widespread testing capability, an essential part of combatting the illness.

Instead, the federal government must pull together with local and state governments to accelerate the procurement of essential supplies and personnel to meet this crisis. And frankly, President Trump, instead of passing the buck, the buck stops with you because you are the president. President Harry Truman’s desk sign, “The buck stops here,” is very relevant to these times and that statement.

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My parents and grandparents loved to talk about how the American people came together during two of the major disasters of the 20th century, the Great Depression and World War II. Neighbors helped neighbors, they remembered, whether it was sharing food in the Depression, or doing community-wide drives to support the war effort during WWII.

That is what we need now, and some are doing that.

I watched and listened to five worship services online this past weekend. While that may seem excessive to you,  I am a pastor and I have been a seminary professor for nearly 40 years, and I have taught online for nearly 15 years. I wanted to see how pastors were coping with doing worship online and what their messages would be.

In all five services, the pastor talked about how their church would be collecting food and other essential items to deliver to those in the highest risk groups for contracting coronavirus in their communities. It was the central message for all, and often involved the story Jesus told about the “Good Samaritan” in Luke 10: 25-37.

If I were re-telling the story of the “Good Samaritan” today I might say:

“In the year 2020, people were suddenly being attacked by a vicious virus that spread rapidly. There was a shortage of testing for the virus infection and of crucial medical supplies, personnel and hospital beds. The president hardened his heart and said, ‘get it yourself.’ People were told to practice ‘social distancing’ to avoid the spread of the disease, but some of them hardened their hearts as well and did not comply, and the disease spread further and further. Some did self-isolate, but neglected their older neighbors who could not get out to get food and other necessities. But others, knowing that social distancing meant the whole community needed to increase their care for one another, bought the food and needed supplies and left them on the doorsteps of the elderly and infirm. Many community leaders, including mayors and governors, did their best to find the supplies to care for the people suffering from the infection. And the nation grew stronger because many started looking out for one another.”

Jesus was a Rabbi, that is, a Jewish teacher, and he knew how to teach. “The Good Samaritan” is a wonderful lesson. Caring for one another in a time of crisis like this one is the way we will get through it. Make no mistake, though. The delays and minimizing of the seriousness of this epidemic has meant we are way behind where we should be in preparation and community practice.

There is no way forward but through. Caring and respecting the safety of each other, especially for those most vulnerable at this time, is essential. Individual caring is a crucial step, as is pulling together to increase needed testing, medical supplies and treatment facilities, even if that means temporary hospitals.

The exactly wrong response is “get it yourself.”

The right response is “let’s pull together to get what everyone needs.”

Here are some ideas:

  • Reach out to your neighbors by phone, especially the elderly and those with the kinds of underlying conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease. Ask them what they might need before you go shopping.
  • Ask them how they are, and chat for a while. Social distancing is very alienating, especially for those who live alone.
  • Donate to your local food pantry and/or your faith community’s efforts to provide food and other necessities to those who need to stay isolated.
  • Stock up on basic supplies but don’t hoard. Others need to stock up too.

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