Who would ever have thought that a two-hour movie you enjoyed with buttered popcorn and M&Ms—a movie that scared you silly the whole time it was on the big screen, but nonetheless, didn’t stop you from enjoying your burger and fries at McDonald’s after the mayhem from Hollywood had ended—who would ever have thought that the movie would be coming to us in real life and in real time? The actors in this flick don’t take off their makeup at the end of the day’s filming and head over to their favorite pub to throw back a few or enjoy a glass of Chablis on their patios. No, the “actors” of this drama are hunkered down in their homes—if they are lucky enough to have such a place to go—glued to their TVs, reeling in fear from scenes before them, featuring streets they’ve walked down, people they know, while praying for the best. No backlot here. The “actors,” unfortunately, are us!
While we are hopeful for a happy, Hollywood-style ending, for now, the pain of the moment seems never-ending. What to do? We can spend our days angry and sad, wondering how things went so wrong, so fast. We can question if our government leaders let us down. Why weren’t we better prepared as a nation? We can look at our family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and ourselves, burdened by troubling thoughts and obsessed with vigilant monitoring, worrying about the worst that can happen while hoping to be saved by the best…of plans and people, working to keep us out of harm’s way.
Indeed, in all of this darkness, there are many examples of the best of people on display. Health care professionals, first responders, transit workers, to name just a few, are among those who risk their lives to save the life of another person. And how about the 22,000 volunteers from other states who rushed to New York to help us out—in a place they don’t know, for people they don’t know. All they know is that there are people in need. But we also don’t need to look beyond our own members at Local 237 to see the best examples of the best of people. Our members have had to do their jobs to safeguard the most vulnerable populations in New York City without having adequate safeguards in place for themselves. And, despite our repeated and ongoing demands to the de Blasio administration to provide these workers with PPE, the city remains unconscionably noncompliant. Our members nonetheless labor on. They are truly inspiring.
And there is one more major example of the best of people: our governor, Andrew Cuomo. He gives public service a good name. It’s not just that he instills a sense of confidence, of leadership to a frightened nation begging to know that things will eventually be alright, but it’s also his display of warmth mixed in with his wisdom. That warmth, that virtual hug, is what is needed now, more than ever before. It’s no surprise that his late-morning press conferences are must-see TV nationwide. They are a mixture of information and admonishment. He tells it straight. “Here’s what we know.” The news right now may be grim, but here’s what we are doing. He takes responsibility.
Also important are the governor’s pleas to try to find some solace in staying close to people you love and remembering the good times you’ve shared and try to replicate them in some small way even at this terrible time. You don’t have to be an Italian-American to relate to the governor’s story about Sunday family dinners with his parents and grandparents—marathon meals that started around 2 p.m. and went well into the evening, with tons of long simmering homemade sauce, meatballs, sausages, spaghetti, and conversation. Or his naming the special guidelines he laid out early on about how to protect the elderly in this crisis, Matilda’s Law, after his own mother, saying, “She’s not expendable. Neither is your mother.” That really hit home! Or how about the governor having his brother, CNN journalist Christopher Cuomo, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, broadcast from the basement of his home where he is quarantined to describe his experiences and to make the point that this disease doesn’t discriminate. Cuomo told us, “I’m the governor. I’m supposed to know everyone and everything and I couldn’t stop my brother from getting this virus. Heed the warnings. It could happen to you, too.” The governor then signed off the segment by telling his 49-year-old brother, “I love you little brother; call you later.” Wow!
So, what do we do now? Certainly, we are all prayerful that this pandemic ends soon and eases its grip on our city, state, nation, and the world. In the meanwhile, we will continue to take guidance from those leaders who show the strength of character, operational knowledge and skills to get us through these tough times. However, there is an even bigger question to consider: What will we do when the crisis ends? That makes me wonder about a Holocaust survivor who suffered the unimaginable inhumanity of a Nazi concentration camp; or the viciousness many African Americans endured living in the deep south of this country in the 1950s and ’60s; or the brutality of genocide in Uganda; or the savagery of the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Towers—a day none of us will ever forget! How did those victims…those families, live on? Or, does the pain from this coronavirus destroy us forever? What does lingering bitterness get you? Though I am certain that there will be countless books written on this crisis for decades to come, with stories and speculation to figure this out, there seems to be some undeniable lessons to learn. We should savor the good times, prioritize what truly matters, and make sure not to squander our blessings. Human kindness is a treasure more valuable than any stack of gold. And Sunday family dinners fill not only our stomachs but our hearts and souls.
Gregory Floyd is president of Teamsters Local 237 and vice president at-large on the General Board of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.