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You are an American hero

Each of you, with the dozens of choices you make every single day with the greater good in mind, is doing your part to beat back a virus that has claimed nearly 70,000 American lives.

People in line at the Burlington Wegmans supermarket on Sunday kept their social distance as they waited for the store to open.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Since the coronavirus reached this nation’s shores, no group of Americans has put themselves at greater risk to combat it than health care workers — the doctors, the nurses, custodial staff, all the hospital employees who have put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

Right behind them are the first responders: paramedics, firefighters, police officers. In the next category are transit workers, grocery staff, bodega owners, short order cooks, those who deliver our goods and many more.

But throughout this process, there’s been another kind of American who hasn’t received nearly enough praise.


The mask-wearing, protective-glove-donning, six-feet social distancing, stay-at-home-adhering, Zoom-conferencing, homeschooling, mind-slightly-losing, non-complainers.


I’m talking about you.

You’re not out hugging your friends and neighbors — you’re the one walking down the sidewalk and jumping into the street to keep 6 feet away from your fellow pedestrians to allow safe passage.

You’re going to the park or the beach, but you’re keeping your distance. Your mask is uncomfortable and making your glasses fog up, yet you still won’t wear it around your chin. You dutifully stand in line outside the supermarket, the drugstore, or the coffee shop, waiting your turn, 6 feet apart.

You’re cutting your own hair (or getting a loved one to do it) rather than demonstrating outside some state capitol complaining about how your freedom is being taken away.

Each of you, with dozens of choices that you make every single day with the greater good in mind, is doing your part to beat back a virus that has claimed nearly 70,000 American lives. And, I for one, salute you because through your actions (and inactions) you are heroes and patriots.

This is what makes the coronavirus pandemic such a different national disaster than anything we’ve ever seen before. On Sept. 11, the heroes were the first responders who rushed to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and, for too many of them, never came home. But for the rest of us, we were urged by the president to get on with our lives, “to fly on airplanes, to travel, to go to work," even “get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”


As callous as that may have sounded to some at the time, it was actually a plea not to live our lives in fear. It was a call for resilience in the face of adversity, but certainly not sacrifice.

Now every American is being asked to sacrifice — to step outside their comfort zone, to do things they don’t want to do, and not just for their own health but for the health of those around them. Until a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, the ability to stop this virus depends on all of us being willing to isolate ourselves and our families, while taking the necessary precautions that keep us, and those around us, safe. So many of you are stepping up to the plate. It’s both inspiring and humbling.

There are, of course, plenty of people who are doing the opposite. They are the ones carrying Confederate flags and Trump 2020 banners, toting semiautomatic weapons, or screaming at police officers and nurses in scrubs. They are the ones who are gathering in public places, without taking precautions, seemingly indifferent to how their actions might be affecting others. And then there are the conservative pundits, Fox News talking heads, Republican state legislators and governors, and even the president whining about social distancing rules and calling for reopening the economy even as the increase in coronavirus cases — and deaths — continues seemingly unabated.


But make no mistake, they are the exception. You are the rule.

In America’s most iconoclastic, go-your-own-way urban metropolis of New York, it seems 70 to 80 percent (if not more) of people I see on the street are covering their faces, when a month or so ago almost no one was doing that. That’s altruism, and it’s being replicated in cities across the United States.

Focus on the ne’er-do-wells and you’ll miss the far larger story: a silent majority of hundreds of millions of Americans who are doing the right thing. You are, in many ways, this country’s greatest asset, and your contributions are being squandered by a president and a coterie of political leaders too selfish and too partisan to be equal to your sacrifice.

So take a bow, my fellow social-distancing American. You’re a hero.

Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.