What an epic failure our country has become. What a sad and horrifying story. And for no good reason.
I know this because Charlie Barr, a sweet and kind man if ever there was one, has died of the coronavirus. He was 45 years old, emotionally disadvantaged and with an immune system not up the challenge.
I “met” Charlie by way of his sister, Lori Bebko, on Facebook. She would share bits of dialogue from their conversations and post videos of his wild, freeform dancing. She called him her “male sibling unit,” teasing him but with a fierce devotion. We all got to love him.
You may have met him, too. A few months ago, Lori was part of a Facebook group set up to let people know which local businesses were following masking protocol. When the group was castigated by local restaurants and politicians, she attempted to explain about Charlie. She would not be able, she knew, to protect him without the community’s help.
You see, Charlie couldn’t really understand the whole masking thing but happily went along when it was explained he needed to wear it to protect other people.
Do I blame anyone for his death? You’re damned right I do. I am so sad and angry right now.
We all share the shame of Charlie’s death — and the mess our country has become with more than 330,000 dead and many more to come before inoculation can eradicate this curse.
How could this happen here? This is America!
The genie came out of the bottle the day the president of the United States, instead of protecting the people who live in this great country, decided it was more important to shore up his re-election bid. He said the coronavirus was a hoax, people who wore masks were sissies or worse, unpatriotic. Is he to blame for causing the virus? Of course not. But with a few words — “wear a mask” — he could have saved thousands of lives.
Instead, like lemmings, many of his supporters followed The Big Lie as he advocated the very thing that would most assuredly kill not only many Americans but even his most ardent supporters.
Even as I write, Republicans in state government continue to deride and scold Gov. Wolf who prioritized people’s lives and kept a damper on businesses where the virus is so often spread. Were his decisions perfect? No, but does he deserve to be called a Nazi — and worse, if there is such a thing?
I saw where Charlie was a Facebook friend of state Rep. Martin Causer, our local representative.
I wonder how Marty would explain to Charlie the importance of giving business owners an open mic in Harrisburg to tell their economic hardships while minimizing the ever-growing danger. To this day, there is the denial, the “protest” signs, the attempts at legal action against the governor’s measures trying to protect people like Charlie.
If you so desire, you can still see ad nauseum Facebook comments by people who refuse to wear a mask as an infringement of their “God-given right” to “freedom.” And a health care worker I met in Port Allegany said, sadly, that probably 90% of her patients would refuse the vaccination.
The fact remains that Trump’s supporters — at every level of government — have failed to stand up and call “bull----” as this dangerous pandemic has swept over America unlike any other country in the world.
As for the rest of us? Many of us — myself included — have failed to stand up and call out these people and their massive failure of leadership. We all did. We went along because we didn’t want to rock the increasingly violent boat.
But, most significantly, we got caught up in the swirl of politics which has led us deeper and deeper into hate and fear, as we abandoned our most sacred duty as Americans. We were distracted, and forgot our obligation to protect.
And if the experts are right, the situation is going to get much worse and many thousands more will die. We have a perfect storm — a virus raging out of control, medical personnel bending under the strain, sheer ignorance, and the appearance of a more virulent strain of the disease.
When you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.
What has happened to us as a country? We used to pull together. We used to help each other. We had ideals and we lived up to them. Didn’t we? We used to believe people’s lives were more important than making sure a bar can stay open over the holidays. Didn’t we?
We used to love each other, trust one another. In Bradford — in rural Pennsylvania — we had each other’s back because nobody else did.
When word of the coronavirus arrived in the spring, a group of people got together to help everyone through this mess. There were many of the usual charities involved but also thousands — thousands — of individuals who volunteered to do anything they could to help. One woman, I remember, went to the house of an isolated veteran she had never met and cut his fingernails because he had no other way to get it done.
There is a line from “The Green Mile” that rings true: “I’m tired, boss ... Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world ... every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head ... all the time. Can you understand?”
Surely, many of us understand.
How much longer will this go on? And, in the meantime, how many more precious and innocent Charlies will die on our watch?
(Marty Wilder is chair of the Democratic Party in McKean County.)