I had two senior pictures taken for my high school yearbook. I got the first done after a summer of beach time and football practice. My hair was long. It was 1971. My parents saw the proof and insisted on a retake. I believe they saw the long hair as a sign of disrespect.
But those were the times. Baby boom kids challenging the Greatest Generation. Respect was expected, and when not given, it was an affront. I found their discomfort with rebellion more evidence that they couldn’t handle “the times that are a changin”.
But I am older now and respect has come to mean more to me than an opportunity to offend.
I can’t remember when this changed. I’m not sure if it was the hard work, the stupid bosses, the danger, and the steep hillsides of fighting fires. I still rode my motorcycle then: no cause, not much of a rebel.
Medical training might have changed me. There were all the things I needed to learn, then the disease and death I was expected to understand and do what I could.
I came to respect disease. Just look at viruses.
There are viruses (Chicken Pox, Herpes) that can infect you as a youth, then hide in your body for decades, then reemerge to cause more disease when you have become old. Same virus, same body; it just waited a long time. For some, there is never a reemergence; such a mystery.
Other viruses have wiped out whole civilizations. It is suspected Smallpox did that in the early 1500’s in North and South America, after Europeans landed, introducing it to the New World. And then, through technology, study and massive effort, the virus has been eradicated from our world, only to exist in whatever bioterrorism facilities might keep a strain. There hasn’t been a reported case on Earth for 40 years. Such an accomplishment is worthy of respect.
I have seen a patient die in a matter of hours from a Hantavirus infection. It’s rare, but deadly. The sudden death of a previously healthy, middle-aged person made me think and wonder about many things. I did not become fearful, but I respected the disease.
Now we are wondering how to manage this novel Corona Virus that has sickened so many and is changing its form as we watch the numbers climb. Idaho has seen cases increase 5-fold in three weeks. We are on the steep slope of a rising curve.
Is this new wave because we haven’t respected this disease? After all, it’s in the category of common cold viruses. Who wears a mask or gets a shot for a common cold? And there’s plenty of conversation out there about how minor this disease is. We’re dissing something that is killing some of us. Is that being respectful?
If we haven’t given Covid respect, it could be just a reflection of our unwillingness to respect anything. We have elected officials who don’t respect the institutions they were elected to take a seat in. We have elected leaders who make mockery and disrespect their standard discourse. We have social media platforms that give the microphone to incivility and amplify rude behavior. We have church leaders who decide who is worthy of respect and who isn’t, unlike the Savior they claim to worship.
So, I don’t know when that changed for me, my willingness to be respectful. I sure didn’t think I owed it to my folks as a teenager. It was Mark Twain that said, “When I was fourteen, my father was the stupidest man in the world. When I talked to him when I was 21, I was amazed at how much wisdom he had gained in seven years.”
Let us give all dignity and respect.