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Chester County Press

Editorial: Our persons of the year

12/23/2020 12:32PM ● By Richard Gaw

On the cover of the most recent edition of TIME magazine, the new United States President-elect and Vice President-elect, photo-shopped side by side, peer off the right side of the page like visionaries, imagining an unknown future for the country that they were recently elected to serve. 

They were chosen as TIME’s “Person of the Year” for 2020, an annual distinction that began at the magazine in 1927, whose recipients have ranged from the most deserving – Gandhi, Mandela and in 2019, Greta Thunberg – to the absolutely atrocious – Stalin, Khomeini and yes, even Hitler.

While we politely acknowledge the right of the magazine’s editors to make their selection, we take into question the parameters that influenced their decision. For the moment, the imprint that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will make -- healing the nation of its racist wounds, ushering the country out of the COVID-19 nightmare and repairing a broken economy – exist in the form of an aspirational bucket list for the country, only.

It is this newspaper’s opinion that the editors of TIME have committed an egregious oversight, because to us, there has been only one clear recipient of their honors: The nurses, physicians, technicians, hospital support staff, first responders and emergency service rescue personnel, who this year have carved out new meanings for the words “Courage,” “Compassion” and “Care.”

Against the continued onslaught of COVID-19, dressed in the hospital-issued armor of N95 respirator masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, they have been their patients’ keepers. They rescue their patients and they bathe them. They draw blood samples, apply fresh dressings and administer intravenous medicines. They fill each others’ shifts.

Through a pandemic that has not permitted families to visit their loved ones in their hospital rooms, they extend reassurance and hope, and far too often, they have been the last face their patients ever see.

After shifts that sometimes seem endless, they weep in the solitary confinement of their car, ripped apart by the confluence of exhaustion, grief and the knowledge that they are caught up in a windstorm that offers no hints of retreat.

They arrive home and immediately, their sky blue and teal uniforms fall in clumps on the floor, soon to be tossed in the washing machine. After a shower in a designated bathroom, they rejoin a family they are a part of but no longer feel tethered to. The pandemic has wiped it away and its surge is unrelenting. They cannot articulate the pain of knowing that while they are still able to love, they are unable to touch.

Their sleep is chaotic, choppy and intermittent, and the faces of their patients rotate from one to the next, and every attempt at closing off the world is met with a question that will not leave them.  “Will I be the next?”

Still, against every desire to disappear from the necessity of their obligations, they summon up an energy that seems to have been gifted by angels, and they perform the job that is required of them all over again -- through this horrific nightmare -- quietly and efficiently.

The broadcloth of heroism is a general one. It can fall on anybody, not just those with the good fortune to have their achievements magnified by the glimmer of high visibility, or a prominent national magazine. In this terrible year, it has chosen to fall on the men and women who find themselves on the front lines of a worldwide health crisis, here in Chester County and all over the world.

They have worn it admirably and selflessly, and their achievements in the face of insurmountable fear are worth far more than any accolades a magazine can possibly give them.