By: Heather Aliano
As a military spouse, I have had the privilege of living in three different countries and in almost every region of the United States. It’s always interesting to watch my kids answer the question, “Where are you from?” Most of the time, we just laugh and answer that we are “from here, for now.”
Moving with the military is always an adventure, but our move this summer to the St. Louis area has been complicated by the Coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t have imagined this scenario if I had tried, but we drove across the midwest with face masks, hand sanitizer, and cans of Lysol to our new “home” state despite the risk of illness.
The reality is that the pandemic is hitting each community a little differently, and that means we have had to spend time learning about the different rules, risk levels, and routines of each new area we entered. The area we left never fully established stay-at-home orders and doesn’t require masks to be worn. But, things are very different where we live now. Masks are required everywhere.
What’s even more interesting is the different attitudes, beliefs, and experiences that change from one place to the next. It’s easy to feel like the world is spinning out of control when you see the toxic polarization surrounding the response (or lack thereof) to the virus. In my work at the One America Movement, I am reminded often to slow down and consider the nuanced factors that influence why people believe and behave the way they do.
In one small town, we met an interesting man who told me that he had been trying to catch the coronavirus, and just couldn’t seem to get it no matter how hard he tried. His wife lost her job early in the pandemic, and he is eager for life to return to normal. It seemed to him that it would make the most sense to get the virus and get over it, so they could get back to work.
One of my girlfriends on the other side of the country told me that she doesn’t know a single person who has become sick from the virus and wonders if it’s been overplayed. Professional acquaintances have died, friends have lost parents, and I feel like every day I hear of another friend who has been diagnosed. Elderly family members are afraid of what happens if they become ill, and young family members are afraid of what happens if their education, their professional lives, and their hopes and dreams continue to be on pause.
Unfortunately, for many people in our country, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. Unemployment in our country is still way up, and it’s important for us to unravel that thread. Without a national moratorium on evictions, it’s likely that many vulnerable people in our country could lose their homes. Black and Hispanic Americans in particular, who are more likely to rent and work low-wage jobs, are being disproportionately affected by the uncertainty of this pandemic.
Small towns and rural areas are also suffering more than those in major cities when it comes to evictions, job loss, and instability. A large share of Americans across our country live paycheck to paycheck, and nearly 40% of Americans would be unable to come up with $400 if faced with an emergency. Many of the fastest-growing jobs in our country pay less than $30,000 a year, making it nearly impossible to save funds even if job stability wasn’t a problem.
The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented and painful, to be sure, but the rippling impact of the pandemic on jobs, homes, and peace of mind isn’t surprising when we consider these facts. Each of us is experiencing this pandemic differently, and we have to take the time to listen with compassion to our neighbors, family members, and friends when they tell us about their lived experience — which will most certainly be unique to them, but no less real than our own. The impact of the pandemic is far-reaching, and the recovery period will be complicated.
Only one thing remains clear: if we are going to make it through this, we will have to work together despite our differences. As our family settles into our new “home” and learns the rules and culture that makes this part of the country so special, I am grateful that one thing seems to be the same no matter where we live or what is happening in the world: we are welcomed with a smile, even if we can’t see it from behind the mask.