Anyone familiar with transit or logistics can tell you the last mile is the hardest to conquer. The proverbial last mile of the pandemic proffers the country a similar challenge.
“We do not have the luxury of inaction,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday. “I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet.”
We haven’t met anyone who feels differently. The past 12 months have been nothing but heavy as families bury loved ones, parents grapple with work arrangements and senior citizens live in solitude. Who wouldn’t want to call it quits?
But the dawn of an Easter weekend reminds us of the promise ahead, if we remain vigilant.
Walensky’s concern is a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases after months of steep decline, perhaps fueled by variant strains of the virus. A “fourth wave” at this point, when Americans are exhausted from ping-ponging public health directives and months of division, would be almost unbearable for some.
Yet we see hope. Vaccines are plunging into many more arms than early analyses expected. As of earlier this week, 94.7 million American adults had received at least one dose of a vaccine. The drugs are proving more effective in real-world scenarios than scientists could have dreamed of a year ago.
Warmer months, too, will hopefully slow the spread and give mental strength to a winter-weary people. We’re hanging on to President Joe Biden’s promise of a mostly normal Fourth of July celebration.
It’s all so close. And perhaps because of that, it’s increasingly more difficult to stay the course.
There’s an element of policy involved — some states are ending mask mandates or altering public health guidelines, and it’s not entirely clear where legislators are getting their data.
But the more salient aspect is how individuals respond.
How the country’s people react in the coming weeks may define their trajectory for the rest of the year, and the attitude with which the nation finishes the task at hand will prove instructive of its ability to face crises in the future.
In this, the season of the year is illuminating. As the Christian world celebrates a decidedly more optimistic Easter than the last, it’s worth contemplating the character of the faith’s central figure as he responded to grief too difficult to bear.
Scriptural accounts of Christ’s life detail a last mile so burdensome he pleaded that he “might not drink the bitter cup.” Betrayed, mocked and wrongfully sentenced to die, he nevertheless knew his role and gave victory to mankind.
His example expands beyond a once-in-a-generation pandemic to encompass all of life’s challenges, asking the same question at each juncture: How will we respond in our darkest hours?
The good news is, unlike Christ — and because of him — the rest of us need not go it alone. Humans are at their best when banded with others in a common cause. Today, the pandemic; tomorrow, a new crisis. Each moment of pain affords a chance to respond with personal responsibility, compassion and charity.
Those attributes could have done wonders in the past 12 months if practiced more widely, but they can still bring blessings to millions today. Long ago the world learned that seeing the final moments of suffering to their conclusion gives way to a glorious future. It’s now an Easter lesson for our time.