In his 1844 novel “The Three Musketeers,” Alexandre Dumas penned the famous phrase “One For All And All For One!” Those words cast the vision of a society where one person’s hardships are shared experiences of the majority and that the majority must work together for the benefit of its most vulnerable citizen. The vision inspires us to think beyond our own lived experiences and share in the experiences of the community around us. This approach to doing life, emphasized in nearly all faith traditions, needs to be reimagined given the moment we find ourselves in. Over the past few months, we have seen this ethic reemerge to influence both awareness and change, darkness still looms in other corners of our culture where its light is yet to shine.
Following the Governor’s announcement of a mask mandate, social media was flooded with concerns about the removal of our liberties in the interest of public health. While I might disagree with the outrage it is understandable. One contributing factor to this response is the low number of Van Buren County’s reported cases of COVID-19. The experiences of life during the course of the pandemic in this county has been vastly different than that of those in other sections of our state. Despite a provision in the executive order for counties with a low transmission rate, there still persists outrage among many who see the mandate as an infringement on liberty. For many, seeing is believing, and if not directly impacted by an issue the path of either discrediting its claims or denying its existence is a much more favorable one to take. This approach to doing life only perpetuates societal issues such as racial prejudices, and inequality in all of its forms. Just because you are not directly impacted by the consequences of these issues does not mean they do not exist.
Modeling released by The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) forecasts that by September, Arkansas will reach a surge of 20,000 COVID-19 cases per day. Previous long-term forecasts by UAMS have proven to be accurate and suggest that the impact this pandemic will have on our public health infrastructure will be much more problematic than what we have witnessed to date. While I am hopeful the rural nature of our community will allow us to maintain a low community spread, I am deeply concerned about the impact if it does not. When you consider the demographics and health vulnerabilities of our county, a surge in COVID cases could prove detrimental. If masking up can prevent just one of our residents from being ventilated than why would I not sacrifice my convenience for the sake of someone else? The worst thing to do in this moment is to confuse the sacrifice of your convenience by wearing a mask with oppression. At the onset of the pandemic, the prevailing narrative that guided our response was that we were “All In This Together!” Those words now seem like a distant memory and what once was a unified public health response has now become a polarizing issue.
The response to the mask mandate is just one of many indicators that signify just how far we still need to travel before Dumas’s words become reality. The spirit of those words suggests that communal structures are only as strong as their most vulnerable members. As has been said many times before we need to continue to share in one another’s experiences. The disparities in those experiences must not be used as a metric to gauge their validity.
It is my belief that this community will continue to navigate the challenges of this moment together. We will not always agree on the solutions and that is what makes the Republic in which we live such a unique experience. We will wake to a day when these moments are a part of a shared historical journey, as we travel this path may we rediscover what it means to be one for all and all for one. Go do your part this week.
David Cook lives in Shirley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org