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COVID-19: Connection, Leadership, Freedom in Northeast Indiana

By: John Sampson on April 1st, 2020

We're in This Together

In just one month, the world has changed. 

Just over the past few weeks, it became apparent that COVID-19 had found a serious foothold in the U.S. Most states declared emergencies, mandated social distancing and shelter-in-place orders intruded abruptly into every routine and sense of normalcy. 

By March 26, the total confirmed U.S. cases became the highest in the world, exceeding the horrific accounts from China, Italy and Iran. No longer was this someone else’s battle in a distant land; the battlefront moved without warning or permission to our communities as confirmed cases grew daily in Indiana and across the country. 

A global community declared war on the coronavirus.

Only a few short weeks ago, an enthusiastic team from Northeast Indiana made a public and very energetic appeal to the Indiana Tourism Council for a significant grant in support of our inaugural Make It Your Own Mural Fest this fall. Admittedly, the hope and optimism of that day have already dimmed in an uncertain future; dimmed but not extinguished.

While we can hardly imagine what our “world” might be like in another month let alone in six, we must keep in front of mind an important truth; we have suffered severe challenges together and overcome them each in their appointed time. As communities, a region, a country and now a very connected global marketplace and community of nations, we have faced the terror of pandemics, recessions, political upheavals, conflicts and wars. In no way can we minimize the significance, strife or depth of suffering inflicted from the loss of freedom, economic resources, life or limb. Sadly, these all are very much a part of life and living in a far less than perfect state of affairs on our very good earth.  

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Not surprising to the information age, we can hardly turn off the deluge of information, public health warnings, official updates and commercial counsel to guide our lives in this new normal. Frankly, this current challenge is very serious, even deadly, but we are viewing it through a constant and persistent magnifying glass. Our pandemic has become larger than life through endless repetition and addiction to digital sources. I find myself turning it off and tuning out for a reprieve to restore the emotional strength necessary.

We will get through this, together.

We must not overlook the silver lining deep within this dark cloud moment. Every day, more good news stories emerge; businesses realigning outputs, not-for-profits digging deep for community support while friends, families, co-workers and faith-based organizations exercise new digital tools to activate an outpouring of love and care for one another.

Just last evening, we received a text from a dear friend we had not heard from in months, only to ask, “How are you guys doing?  Need anything?” Little did we understand what comfort, support and strength we might find in hearing a caring voice from a friend, seeing a digital image of a loved one or the energy derived from a “Zoom” meeting of team members.

A golden opportunity lies within all of us for these troubled times; leadership. It is in the most difficult of times when any of us, and all of us, will need to lead. These golden opportunities surround us in so many ways. 

I see leadership exhibited by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issuing critical executive orders to protect all Hoosiers and at the same time expressing confidence in all of us to just do the right thing at the right time to protect and care for one another. 

We all witness leadership in the tireless efforts of Allen County’s Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan and other health department professionals in our region to activate community and business leaders to get ahead of the crisis. I see leadership when local companies rebuild business models to redirect their strengths to produce personal protective equipment, sanitizer and other critical equipment. And, isn’t it the very best within us when volunteers lead by lending a hand to distribute meals to those in need? 

There is no better time for us to recall what we all know is true, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” As a Hoosier-by-choice, there is no doubt that this period of adversity will reveal in us our very best as we make tough decisions to protect and care for one another.

We are at war with COVID-19 to protect and restore our lives, livelihoods and freedom.

There is no better time than this moment of crisis to lead and to rediscover the priceless freedom we share to care for one another in a moment of need. Thomas Paine said it this way, and he said it well. 

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."

—Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

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