I was 18 when I learned to ride a souped up and leaned down Harley motorcycle with a tank shift and a suicide left foot clutch (you couldn’t put that foot down with the bike in gear when stopping). My self-taught lesson was on busy Collins Avenue in Miami Beach and yes, despite the immortal attitude of the young and the lack of a fully formed brain, as with all teenagers, I was scared enough to use a modicum of common-sense caution. But over the next several months as I gained confidence the caution ebbed and I became bolder. The inevitable happened. One day in Coral Gables I went down, luckily in a woman’s soft front lawn, so there was no damage to the bike or me save for a few bruises on my body and my misplaced ego. I returned to riding with caution.
I was lucky. I knew other riders who, after shedding their natural initial caution, suffered severe injuries because of complacency.
A similar thing happened when many years later I became a private pilot. Initial apprehensions. Initial prudent cautions. Then, years later, complacency and lax attention to the basics. And two very close calls that I and my passengers survived only with as much luck as skill.
Fellow pilots I knew over the years died along with several passengers. One was a surgeon who had repaired a torn ligament in my left knee. Shortly after earning his instrument rating and with the confidence boost thus gained, he took off with his wife and another couple for the mountains in weather he was not yet experienced enough to handle. All four died. (A similar fate met JFK Junior and his passengers one dark foggy night in New England.) Another friend crashed his ultralight he’d flown many times before but should not have flown that hot dusty day. Yet another was exuberantly pushing his new airplane to it limits with two other pilot friends aboard. All three died in a simple low-altitude stall. Killed by overconfidence and complacency.
Some 40,000 Americans die annually on our highways. In many cases killed by simple complacency after years of taking risks like texting, speeding, and aggressive lane shifting and getting away with it.
After 9/11 our nation pulled together in defiance of terrorist enemies and in generous support of survivors and in lamentation for the dead. For a time, there was not an American flag to be had left in stores or online.
We’re facing another deadly common enemy now, except it’s microscopic. Our only ways to control its spread are masking and social distancing. We know these measures work because we have shining examples as proof. In both Japan and New Zealand, per capita infection and death rates are a tiny fraction of ours because the populace in both countries observed strict lock-downs from the start and have practiced near total masking and distancing and can now open their economies with safe precautions. In dark contrast, our chaotic response coupled with mass refusal to wear masks or to social distance has resulted in thousands upon thousands of needless infections and deaths.
And now I fear complacency and lax attention to safe practices are going to kill thousands more. Months into the continuing pandemic, I’ve seen increasing numbers of people taking risks they would not have taken several months ago, when apprehension dictated caution. A family on our street recently hosted a gathering of at least forty people. No masking. No social distancing. The lady of the house is a nurse who should know better.
I know older people who eat out, go to crowded bars, and shop routinely rather than use curbside pickup. Don’t wear masks. Don’t social distance. As the death toll climbs past 200,000 Americans with no end in sight.
Please do not let your guard down. We have many months to go before this pandemic can be beaten back. Together we can overcome this monster that continues to threaten our way of life and is sickening and killing far too many of us. We know how to fight it.
But will we?
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