What does the Florida Safer At Home order look like in my community?
It was 7:50 a.m. on Friday, April 3, the day the Florida governor’s EXECUTIVE ORDER NUMBER 20-91took effect.
My partner and I had just finished our morning run (safe social distancing practices top of mind), even though we had received an email the night before telling us that our next marathon was rescheduled from May 30 to Sept. 5 due to novel coronavirus concerns.
Curious and hopeful about the effect of the state’s new Safer At Home order, we walked beyond our neighborhood to the end of our street to see what the day looked like. Before we met the intersection of our street and the six-lane, east-west thoroughfare, the noise gave the day away: it was the same as every other day.
Everything and everyone in our Southwest Florida community seemed to fall under the Essential Services and Essential Activities sections of the order.
The Safer At Home order allowed for outdoor exercise (how did golf qualify?), but I felt a twinge of guilt as we ran: were we contributing to some general feeling of, “out and about is OK” behavior just as Florida’s confirmed COVID-19 cases surged to 9,000?
Other than training runs with my partner I’d been home—at my house, since Florida Gulf Coast University announced it would implement distance learning on March 15. As an adjunct faculty member who teaches courses that interrogate judgment, interconnectedness, and coexistence—I couldn’t think of another place I should be.
In his book, "The Road to Character," The New York Times columnist and author David Brooks shares this vital consideration: “Nobody’s better than me, but I’m no better than anyone else” (Brooks 5). This ideal dwells at the core of a justice and journalism course I teach.
Who was I to judge everyone in my community who appeared not to care about following the Safer At Home order?
California Governor Newsom’s voice pounded in my head to the tempo of my running shoes during the morning run; I thought about his stern words to the young people of California as I’d recently read them in the San Francisco Chronicle:
“Socially distance yourself from others. Just use common sense. Be a good neighbor. Be a good citizen … Time to grow up. Time to wake up. Time to recognize it’s not just about the old folks, it’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish. Recognize you have responsibility to meet this moment as well.”
I wondered how the young people in California differed from my students; I'd seen my culture and society students in-person for the last time on March 9. Since the start of the semester on January 6 they had been interrogating our core themes of interconnectedness and coexistence, well before the novel coronavirus was a substantial topic in America.
In between moments of disbelief about being ripped away from their friend groups, wondering about what a virtual commencement ceremony might feel like, and worrying about NCAA eligibility as their sports seasons evaporated, they wrote expressions of courage through optimism. They shared links to the jubilant music of hope ringing from Italy’s balconies, and offered inspiring messages, from the Kitty O’Meara poem to Russell Brand’s existential encouragement.
I had asked a brilliant former government official and professor to offer my students a lecture that was originally going to be focused on the topic of reciprocity of influence. Inspired by the learned scholar’s lecture that became a virtual event about civic cooperation and compassion's role, one of my students wrote that humans need to learn how to be human again. Another pointed out that our species needed to learn new ways to be human. And yet another wrote about how nature was getting a much deserved break due to the virus; blue skies over China and birds taking over the beaches in Peru that humans grudgingly abandoned. In virtual class discussions they cheered one another's efforts to show respect through social distancing and chided friends who posted pictures of “quarantine parties” on social media.
They created inspired versions of Be The Change You Want to See in the World, motivated by the guest lecturer’s references to Gandhi. In fact, Gandhi's advice may have gone further than this famous quote, according to author Brian Morton's Aug. 29, 2011 op-ed piece in The New York Times:
"The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”
As seen from a different vantage point, the effect of the Safer At Home order meant everything.