This is a solemn and challenging time in the life of our nation and world. A remorseless, invisible enemy threatens the elderly and vulnerable among us — and some of the healthiest, too. It challenges our sense of safety, security and community. Our children are separated from their teachers and their friends in a way that is hard for them to understand. Many have lost loved ones, jobs and businesses while confronting fear and loneliness.
We were not meant to live apart from each other, especially in times of challenge. Our tools of compassion — a hug, gathering as people of faith or in friendship, caring for our family when they are ill — bring the opposite of the love we intend.
Rarely in history have we served our neighbor by distancing from them.
As Americans, this concept is frustrating and foreign to us. We live in a free nation, but independence from the state doesn’t mean isolation from each other. Our free society thrives when neighbors help neighbors and the strong protect the weak. The success of a nation to uphold that freedom depends on the character of its citizens.
Our freedom and way of life have been tested before. Following 9/11, I saw a great nation rise as one to honor the brave, to grieve with the grieving and to embrace unavoidable new duties. This spirit of service and sacrifice is alive and well in America.
Officials at every level are setting out the requirements of public health that protect us all. Extraordinary medical professionals continue to risk their own health for the health of others and search for treatments that will heal the sick and save lives. Each day, reminded that the suffering we experience as a nation does not fall evenly, ordinary Americans have committed extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion.
I’m particularly proud of the work of the Presidential Leadership Scholars, graduates of a leadership training program between my presidential center and those of my father, President Bill Clinton, and President Lyndon Johnson. The good work of these men and women are just a few examples of how Americans have met new challenges with creativity and innovation.
Some are working to ensure that those who are food insecure do not go hungry. Michael Hole is the founding adviser of Good Apple, a doctor-prescribed grocery delivery service fighting hunger. Before the pandemic, they had about 50 active subscribers — mostly children in need. Now, they have over 600. Good Apple has launched a new “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” initiative in partnership with the City of Austin, and they are delivering about 250,000 pounds of food to 8,000 people with underlying medical conditions in central Texas so they can stay safe at home.
Others are working together to make medicine more efficient and effective during this pandemic. Amy Fiedler, along with 14 other fellow Presidential Leadership Scholars, created a free tool to help hospitals and communities rapidly assess their preparedness for COVID-19. The resource has been shared with 700 health care facilities and organizations caring for 9 million patients nationwide through GetWellNetwork.
And many are working with the most vulnerable among us. Kevin Adler, founder and CEO of Miracle Messages, an organization that reconnects people experiencing homelessness with their loved ones, has joined forces with the national grassroots movement #TheHomelessFront. Kevin and his colleagues continue to demonstrate compassion toward the homeless during this crisis by coordinating supplies, combatting isolation, and reuniting families.
Empathy and simple kindness are essential, powerful tools of national recovery. Even at an appropriate social distance, we can find ways to be present in the lives of others — to ease their anxiety and share their burdens. Our differences are small in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis, we are equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. I maintain an unshakeable faith in the future of country, because I know the character of our citizens. We rise or fall together. And we are determined to rise.
George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States. This commentary was published first in “The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas” (bushcenter.org). from the Bush Institute.