My view: In it together (whether we like it or not)
Recently, my baby had a bottle of formula and was fussy afterwards. My wife, who usually feeds her, had prepared as much as she thought our baby would want to eat, but she had underestimated her infant appetite this time, and had to prepare some more. We had nearly run out of formula last month, but my amazing mother-in-law was able to ship us a container she purchased from a grocery store in Texas.
As I listened to my hungry baby crying for food, I recognized how fortunate I am that we are able to feed her what she needs, and I imagined what it would be like if that weren't the case. What if I, like so many other American families right now, especially families of color, had no way to obtain enough formula for my baby? What if my only recourse was to rock my crying baby to sleep while she suffered through the pain of unsatisfied hunger? Or to feed her a nutritionally inadequate and potentially dangerous formula replacement?
"We're all in the same storm, but we're not all in the same boat." This has become a popular talking point in the pandemic; a way to succinctly summarize the disparities I've just alluded to. Some of us are in yachts, and some of us are in leaky dinghies. For many of us, the resources at our disposal are so robust that it's easy not to recognize that, in fact, we really are in the same boat. We are all humans sharing this one fragile planet, participating in this infinitely interdependent society. The structures of our society have become so global and automated that they've become invisible to many of us. We take for granted the fact that none of us can survive without the rest of us; because we take for granted the security of our daily lives.
The power goes out after a record-breaking storm, and we assume someone will turn it back on for us. We hear about a growing pandemic and those of with means rush to the grocery stores to ensure we have all that we need, and stock up on excessive amounts of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, creating a shortage that didn't exist before. We hear about a formula shortage and we do the same thing, getting months' worth of formula for our babies, and leaving none for others who may run out in days. We hear about another school shooting and we settle for outrage without action; because our own children are still coming home to us each night. We hear about a vaccine that could prevent our children from getting sick, but we decide to wait for other children to get it first, to 'test" it for us, knowing we can afford to take some extra precautions in the meantime, that we will be protected by the immunity of others, and that our children aren't at high risk for serious complications from the disease, even if our neighbors might be.
The auto-pilot of our lives does not change course in response to the suffering of others. This is not sustainable. The day may come when the power doesn't come back on after the storm; when there is nowhere to ship formula from; when the school with the shooter is the one my child attends; when one of the hundreds of people still dying of COVID each day in this country is my baby's parent or grandparent. In fact, that day is already here; because it is here for millions of children less fortunate than mine, and their lives matter just as much as my own child's.
Our children learn by the examples we set for them. I will not teach my little girl to prioritize herself over others. I will not teach her to use the suffering of others as a buffer against her own wellbeing. My daughter will learn to care for others and serve a cause greater than herself; because she will have grown up watching her parents do the same.
Dr. Ryan Hassan is a pediatrician practicing in Clackamas County.
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