Coronavirus, a subject on all our minds. How can it not be? Updates on the virus dominate not just TV news but, our thoughts and everyday lives, too.
The closest comparison to what we're going through as a nation would be the horrific terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Hard to believe it was nearly 20 years ago, the day a gang of terrorists commandeered a small fleet of U.S. jet airliners, using them as virtual missiles, to claim thousands of American lives in New York City, Washington D.C., and a farm field in rural Pennsylvania.
Babies born that year are in college now, and have no firsthand idea how those attacks affected our national psyche and changed our lives.
Like so many of you, I remember it well. I'm betting every one of us can recall precisely what we were doing when the news broke.
On 9/11, 2001, I'd gotten out of bed, started my pot of coffee, and prepared to read the morning paper. (In those days, I still had Jackson's Clarion-Ledger delivered to my home.) By the time I turned on the television, was I ever in for a shock.
Instead of the usual cheery-faces of the Today show hosts, I was greeted by images of one of New York City's World Trade Center towers, still standing tall, but with clouds of black smoke billowing from the 110-story skyscraper. What?! The images were accompanied by somber voice-overs of the show's hosts, as they described the scene.
It just so happens, my morning routine was to have included calling Northwest Airlines to book a flight to New York City. My friend in Birmingham, Alabama, and I met in New York every fall to join our friend, Linda, who lives there.
The three of us produced a newsletter for long-since missing exercise guru, Richard Simmons. We became the best of friends, more like family, and looked forward to our annual confab in Manhattan.
As I switched from one cable news channel to the next, the news grew grimmer with each passing minute. I'm sure we all gasped as, on live TV, we watched another airliner crash into the second of the twin towers.
Up until then, we were all confused, wondering how a giant passenger jetliner could suffer such an unthinkable accident, crashing into Manhattan's tallest skyscraper. But as we watched that second jet explode into the other tower, I'll never forget Katie Couric's words, as she confirmed what we all instantly realized, "This was no accident."
At that moment, it became obvious, America was under attack. As the morning progressed, that fact became even clearer, with news reports that a third airliner had slammed into the Pentagon.
Later, a fourth jet was crashed forcibly by passengers, determined to keep that aircraft's hijackers from carrying out their intended mission.
I'm one of those people who suspected that the fourth jet would have headed back to our nation's capital, with the White House or United States Capitol Building in its sights. A group of passengers on the jet, having heard what had happened in New York City and at the Pentagon, were determined not to allow their jet to be used as a weapon. God bless those heroes, unwilling to sacrifice their lives in vain.
During the course of the morning, as the events of 9/11 continued to unfold, I was on the phone with my friends in Birmingham and New York.
While I was talking to them, one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed as we watched on live TV. The big question for my friends and I now was, do we keep our plans to visit New York City?
I returned to watching news coverage of the disaster. fighting back tears as the second tower collapsed.
In only a moment, New York City's iconic skyline was changed forever. Not just that, the morning of 9/11, America was changed forever, too.
In our minds, terrorist attacks were events you only heard about on the news, restricted to Europe, or maybe some middle-eastern country most of us couldn't find on a map. But, after 9/11, our "it could never happen here" attitudes were snatched from us. On an otherwise brilliant sun-kissed Tuesday morning in Manhattan, America discovered, acts of terrorism can indeed happen here, on an unimaginable scale.
We could no longer take our safety for granted.
The horror of 9/11 cost the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans in New York City, Washington, D.C. and on that lonely farm field in rural Pennsylvania.
The tragedy affected the other 300 million of us Americans on an emotional scale we wouldn't have thought possible, just one September day before.
Now comes the Coronavirus tragedy, not confining itself to just three states, but affecting all 50 of these United States, some worse than others.
Here in Hattiesburg, we are keeping a close and prayerful eye on our next-door neighbors in Louisiana, and our big-sister city of New Orleans, in particular. Just a few weeks into the crisis, according to most experts, we're still in only the early days of the pandemic.
My friends and I decided to go ahead with our annual trip to Manhattan. In our minds, if we succumbed to fear by staying home, the terrorists would have accomplished their goals.
While we were there, you could still feel the effects of 9/11 in the air. The World Trade Center had become a must-see for anyone visiting the city.
I'd visited the twin towers many times, even stayed at a hotel directly across the street once, with a breathtaking view of the World Trade Center from my room on the 40th floor.
My friends and I visited the site, surrounded by throngs of others who, like us, wanted to witness it for themselves.
The scene was gut-wrenching.
Only mountains of rubble, where two of America's tallest buildings once stood. Even a month later, several clouds of smoke poured from the World Trade Center's remains, accompanied by the acrid smell of smoldering electric wires.
Unlike 9/11, there are no jetliners involved in our latest national tragedy. No one day will stand out.
Instead, the Covid-19 virus is torturing us in slow motion, over a period of days, turning into weeks, months--for how long? It's like one of those Hollywood science fiction movies only, this time, it's real.
We're living it, and we all have roles to play. There really are no bad guys to blame; the virus, itself, is the bad guy.
But, thankfully, there are plenty of good guys, and girls to cheer for, and to thank. They are the heroes working to save the day, for all of us.
Two of my nieces are nurses and, of course, I'm concerned for their safety. One of them works locally, at a Hattiesburg kidney dialysis center. The other works at a senior citizens living facility in Houston and, as I was finishing this column, I received some disturbing news from her.
So far, three of the seniors living at her facility have come down with the Coronavirus and were hospitalized. One of them has died.
A fourth resident with Covid-19 symptoms was admitted to the hospital this week.
Here's the really scary part for me. My niece has been asking about testing for all residents and employees but has been told there are not enough tests for everyone.
It brings news reports about the importance of testing for the virus directly home for me.
This makes me think about our nurses, doctors and all the staff at our local medical facilities and retirement homes.
They perform their jobs with unquestioned dedication, working to keep us safe during these challenging times. Forrest General Hospital and Wesley Medical Center have huge signs out front, declaring "Heroes Work Here." Indeed they do. And always have.
But, these days, they deserve our love, support and appreciation more than ever.
Let's not forget the people who work at our local supermarkets. When I do have to venture out to Corner Market, I can't help but think about the safety of those store employees, who come in contact with hundreds of people in a typical shift.
Until now, they performed jobs we probably all took for granted. But now we see how much we need them. Yes, they are heroes, too.
And, oh yeah. Those supermarkets would be empty, indeed, if it weren't for this nation's truckers. They're still out there, cruising the interstates, making sure enough canned goods, milk, bread and, of course, toilet paper are filling the shelves of our neighborhood Walmart Supercenters.
For those of us not able to do without a burger every now and then, the employees at your local fast food restaurants are reporting to work daily, servicing the long lines of cars waiting for Big Macs or chicken-fingers at the drive-thru window.
Then there are our local dine-in restaurants, now offering meals for pick-up or, in some cases, home-delivery for their loyal customers.
They are deserving of our thanks and support for their hard work, helping to bring some feeling of normalcy.
We'll never forget the heroes of 9/11. The firefighters and hospital workers in New York City and Washington, D.C., some of whom gave their own lives, fighting to save the lives of others at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Those brave souls on that jetliner over Pennsylvania, their lives were lost in an act of bravery, equaling a soldier's sacrifice on the battlefield.
Today, we're seeing a whole new set of heroes emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
You know many of them personally, right here in Hattiesburg. If there's a bright side to this crisis, it's that we've learned a very important lesson.
Heroes. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. And with this latest national challenge, here's a chance for us all to be heroes. How? It's so simple, summed up in just two words:
Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the University of Southern Mississippi. Send those emails to firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll be sure to respond.