As we approach the end of another calendar year, alongside holiday celebrations we have a new tradition of celebrating individuals as heroes or people of the year. Most prominently, we have the Time Magazine Person of the Year and the CNN Heroes. I want to add another hero; a group that has gone unrecognized for their strength, their resilience and their heroism, not only in 2021, but during the pandemic as a whole.
We should rightly celebrate health care workers, scientists and medical professionals, teachers and front-line workers—they deserve our praise, gratitude and appreciation. But this year, my heroes—often unsung, unnoticed and unappreciated—are the children. Each and every one of them has been living through this pandemic alongside us, has suffered through this pandemic with us and has actually been a shining and inspiring light throughout.
We, as adults, have struggled to make sense of what is happening around us. We have done our best to make good, safe and sensible choices for ourselves and our loved ones. But the children don’t have the same agency or formal power that we do, and so they have had a pandemic happening around them and have been forced to adjust their lives, without a voice or a vote.
Early on, we were told that the best protection against this virus was to wear a mask; and while we adults fussed and complained about the inconvenience of a piece of material covering our noses and our mouths, the children wore their masks. When they returned to in-person schooling, they put on those masks in the morning and they kept them on throughout the day because they were doing their bit to protect each other so that life and school could resume. It would be nice if we adults could follow their example.
And now the children are getting vaccinated, once again showing their concern for others. If we look at the impact of contracting COVID, we know that it is often mildest for the children. So, if vaccination is only about protecting the individual, we might ask about the necessity of our children being vaccinated. But if vaccination is about the communal and collective good, our responsibility to society, then, of course, we all, children included, have to get vaccinated. I know from conversations and social media posts how many children have had their vaccinations, once again doing their bit, uncomplaining (although maybe screaming), as they help to ensure that we are all protected.
The children are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They are the ones who have set an example for us all to follow. They are the ones who have sacrificed so much. And they are the ones who have played their part in helping to protect all of us.
As adults, we do not have all the answers to the questions that our children are asking. I have no response for why we are living through a pandemic. I do not know enough to explain exactly how COVID is spread and why it is so important to take all the precautions that we do. And I cannot offer any degree of certainty on when or if this will be over or what life will look like after the pandemic.
So, what can I do, what can we do to repay the heroes and show our children how grateful we are for all they are doing at this difficult time?
The first is that we need to tell them. We need to let them know how proud of them we are, how impressed we are and the ways in which they are giving us strength. The point of naming a hero is to celebrate them, reinforce their actions and help reinvigorate them to continue forward—that’s what we need to do for our children. They need to know that we see them and all they are doing and that they are our heroes.
And then, as adults, we need to ensure that our communities—be they synagogues, schools or towns—are adequately and appropriately set up to support them. Our society is suffering a mental health crisis, but it is especially prevalent amongst our children. Recently, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory “to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.” Our children, our heroes, are experiencing unprecedented challenges and mental angst, and we have a responsibility to support them and help them navigate this difficult time.
I plan to tell all the children in my life—my own and at my synagogue—that they are heroes. They have amazed me with their strength and resilience over this past year. They have inspired me, giving me strength and picking me up when I have needed it the most. Put most simply, I want to say: Thank you. In so many ways you are the best of us and the promise of a brighter future.
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