Opinion: We: Unearth our Hidden Strength

Eric George Md

NEW ORLEANS – Guest editorial from Dr. Eric George:

We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome. – Isabel Allende

We don’t need to look far to realize the poignancy of Allende’s words. Strength has defined our community as we endure the devastation of Hurricane Ida and its lingering effects. Food and water shortages, power outages, damage assessment and cleanup — all continue amid a global pandemic that remains unceasing and deadly.

Any observer could characterize the past 18 months as nightmarish. Yet rarely do nightmares end with the protagonists claiming victory. Time and time again, through hurricanes or recurring waves of COVID-19, we have persevered, finding strength where weakness prevails, a sense of humor in downtrodden circumstances, and the ability to remain hospitable even when lacking personal comfort and security. Rather than nightmarish, I see our recent past as evidence we can do “awesome” things, proof that our hidden strength remains boundless and admirable.

Allende’s words speak to a deep, all-important truth about our humanity. But they don’t touch on the most effective mechanism for unearthing our capacity to overcome: our family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow community members. Nothing else sharpens our resolve more than knowledge of someone in need. Recognizing this variable is important, because it completes the formula for navigating future disasters and hardships, not to mention the present ones. Our hidden strength depends on embracing a world focused on “we” and less anchored by “me.” We, arguably more than any other community, buy into this belief and embody it daily. Still, we can always provide more compassion, companionship, collaboration, and service to one another.

I would argue that a “we” mentality is more important than ever. Not only because of COVID-19 and climate change, but because of the growing weight and prevalence of mental health issues. Often, an effective antidote for anxiety, depression, and other conditions is the supportive connection of another human being. Yet human connection is sometimes elusive, as evident by the need for social distancing with COVID-19 as well as the lack of service and power with Hurricane Ida. Still, we must continue to seek all avenues for offering a supportive ear or a calming voice, no matter the circumstances.

My message is simple: Keep your head up. Stay optimistic. Remember your hidden strength. Most important, help your neighbor, which is the fastest route to “finding the light at the end of the tunnel,” even when there isn’t any. We have overcome unfortunate circumstances before. We are now. And we will again. But not without each other.

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