Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
President Kennedy’s words nearly 60 years ago inspired a generation of Americans, who themselves were standing on the shoulders of the Greatest Generation, who came of age during the Great Depression and served their country in World War II. Americans of the prior generation had experienced the carnage of World War I.
Service. Sacrifice. Resilience. Work. Our civic duty.
According to vocabulary.com, the word “civics” is an American English invention from the Latin, civicus “of a citizen.”
Civics is the rights and responsibilities “of a citizen.” Americans like to lean into our rights — our freedom to gather, to express, to pursue happiness — a whole lot more than honor our responsibilities— to vote, to serve on juries, to pay taxes. About half of eligible voters turned out in 2016. According to a 2007 study by the National Center for State Courts, only 15 percent of voters are ever called to jury duty, and only 5 percent of those actually serve. [HIGH FIVE IF YOU HAVE!! I served twice in Albany, NY, both good experiences.]
Today, the global pandemic is calling forth our civic duty in a much simpler and more profound way. What we are being asked to do for our country is wear a mask.
According to Wikipedia, civics is about behavior affecting other citizens. Wearing a mask protects others from us. All of us are others. All of others are us.
Compared to living in the dark for years as the citizens of Londoners did during the Blitz, wearing a mask is pretty light stuff. Bearing up under nightly bombing assaults called out the British “stiff upper lip.” In her recent article in The Palm Beach Post, reporter Jan Tuckhill featured local author Jill Rose. Rose, whose mother was Winston Churchill’s nurse and whose letters to the Prime Minister are now Rose’s book, Nursing Churchill, wonders if the English “keep calm and carry on” could help Americans call forth the character we need.
It builds an extraordinary fortitude.Jill Rose, daughter of Winston Churchill’s nurse, author of book of her mother’s letters to Churchill
Fortitude. Good word, that. Resilience. Character.
Perhaps the pandemic can serve as a reminder that we have a civic duty to each other. Wearing a mask is a very small sacrifice to be made, something we can do for our country.
Even if the only reward is nothing.