you first

I remember sitting in the bleachers of my middle school listening to a guy who was talking to us about the dangers of smoking. His speel was funny. He said, if someone dared you to put your mouth on the exhaust of a bus, would you? Then why would you smoke? He advised that when someone offers us a cigarette, we should say, “You first, me never. Because I’m a class act.” He made us practice it as a whole school.

This chant still plays in my head all these years later. I realize the guy behind the message was likely fulfilling a community service obligation for some wrongdoing. Or maybe he just wanted to be a motivational speaker to atone for his bad choices. His words stuck: “You first, me never. Because I’m a class act.”

Did I use them? Probably not as often as I should have. But I’m using them now. In light of all this economy-opening-back-up talk. People on social media are posting “experts” and politicians suggesting that we sacrifice ourselves for the economy. It’s our patriotic duty, I’ve read that it is in our DNA. In essence, let’s play roulette with the coronavirus. Some of us won’t get it. Some of us will end up as asymptomatic carriers and unknowingly pass the virus along. Some of us will get sick. Some of us will die.

We got some riffing from the White House about figuring out if there’s a way to get disinfectant into the body because it works so well on hard surfaces. Was that a direct order to chug some lysol juice? Nope. But people explored this concept anyway.

Dr. Oz suggested that risking 2-3% of school children for the greater good of those who need meals and education and a safe environment was a fair trade off.

To these suggestions, I say, “You first.”

We’ve lost nearly 60,000 American lives to COVID-19. The number is probably higher because testing remains scarce. Yes, I continue to write from a space of comfort. My COVID-19 cases are still two degrees separated from my family. Our income remains steady. I empathize with businesses that are suffering and people whose livelihoods are at stake.

Because the coronavirus is so sneaky and unpredictable, are you willing to risk your life for the economy? Do you think you’re ready to sit in a restaurant, not knowing how many hands have touched your meal? Are you excited to go into a store and try on clothes, not knowing who has touched the garments before? Do you want to stay in a hotel when even before the pandemic there were candid confessionals of how those rooms don’t actually get cleaned like you’d think? Are you ready to host a party where a dozen people will touch your doorknobs and use your towels and potentially leave behind a germ or two?

You first.

Yes, this pandemic has been horribly politicized. If you’re in one camp, you didn’t even believe coronavirus was anything more than the flu for a long while. You didn’t trust, or maybe you didn’t even see the horrifying images and testimonials from Italy. Maybe you still think it’s a hoax. If you’re in the other camp, then you recognize that this is far from over. Right now there is no magical switch to flip to light up the “OPEN” signs of life.

We each have to process our own family’s strategy and make choices that we can live with. I make mine based on the facts presented, not hyperbole. I follow science, not emotion. I seek out sources who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. I find comfort in questions being answered directly. It helps to guide the decisions I need to make to keep my family safe.

But if you can’t stand it anymore… If you’re itching to get back out into the world, I say: “Okay. You first.”

I love words. My head swirls with words. I have many deep thoughts. Some thoughts plague me. In order to release them, I have to assign words. Once the words are strung together, I feel free again.

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