COMMENTARY: 2020: Year for perfect vision?

My son had his annual doctor checkup, and his doctor told him that his vision is 20/20. He said to me, “My vision is excellent 20/20 in the year 2020!”

He asked me: “Dad, I do not feel that this year is so great!

We started the year with the COVID-19 pandemic, people are staying at home, keeping physical distance, wearing masks, and there are lots of people without jobs, Mr. Floyd was killed, and there were peaceful protests and riots in some big cities. Daddy, what’s going on in 2020 in the world?”

I am sure all of us have similar thoughts. I wonder how we as adults understand our presence, make meaning of our lives and give our children answers and hope.

I have learned that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, people spoke more with each other and attended houses of worship to cope with that crisis.

Medical studies showed that sheltering at home has produced more suicidal events: Anxiety, depression, alcoholism, drug consumption and domestic violence have increased. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended guidelines how to prevent these issues I admired America for its values. Those values attracted me to immigrate to this beautiful country. I believe that those values make this country a special one. Those values are freedom and the pursuit of happiness; those are the pillars of America.

I believe that today some people feel that their freedom and autonomy have been taken away. After quarantining for more than 40 days, and in some countries more than 80 days, many people are experiencing an emotional crisis that needs to be addressed.

The pandemic has shown the good and the bad that reside in each of us. It showed people staying at their homes and reducing the probability of positive COVID-19 cases; filled our ICU hospitals; people applauding our healthcare workers; healthcare workers being proactive for worst-case scenarios. But it also has shown our anxiety, our hatred, our violence, our intolerability and our fears.

The pandemic magnified social issues that existed before, such as racial hatred against the Afro-American community, against the Chinese community, against the Jewish community and other minorities. Studies confirm that the Afro-American and Hispanic communities have suffered the most. The victims of the pandemic have been mostly black, Hispanic, elderly and other vulnerable populations.

We knew we had large amounts of people without medical insurance, denying them easy access to medical care. Now, with more than 20 million unemployed human beings in America, can you imagine how the superpower of the world will resolve this crisis?

Unfortunately, I am not surprised by our reality. I feel furious that Mr. Floyd was killed by human beings who were supposed to enforce the law and not abuse their power. We will forever wonder what would have happened if Mr. Floyd had been white. This episode reminds me of a story written in the Bible.

One of the main themes in the biblical book of Numbers is the critics. After being in the desert for so long, the people of Israel expressed their fury by criticizing everything and Moses.

In Chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron (Moses’ siblings) criticized him because he married a “Hisha Cushit” (“a negro woman”).

Moses could not believe that his siblings were racists.

Then, God punished Aaron and Miriam with leprosy, for being racists and full of hate.

Finally, Moses asked God for forgiveness on their behalf, and Miriam and Aaron were cured.

Moses teaches us to stand up against racism and hate. God was proud of Moses because of his capacity to stand and pray for the sins of his siblings. Let us emulate Moses; I would like to invite each of us to improve our world. I hope that each of us can use this time of crisis to consider how we can improve our 20/20 vision inside and outside of us. I hope that we will use this opportunity to search into ourselves and to discover our internal and external fears. After doing that, our task is to think about how we can transform them into acts of love.

My father (may he rest in peace) taught me that “each crisis is an opportunity,” because unfortunately in Argentina (where I was born), history showed that “each opportunity is a crisis.”

This time is our opportunity.

This is our time to stand up and show the world that we can do better. We need Moses-like leaders who will bring unity, who will respect the differences and inspire inclusion. We need today more than ever, leaders who will realize that social justice is not to be talked but to be practiced. That is why, as a police chaplain, I have spent many nights in the last 15 years riding along with police officers to understand their souls and to give them spiritual counsel; that is why a group of us in the Rio Grande Valley decided to help the immigration community by giving them food, clothes, toys and hygiene products; that is why UTRGV School of Medicine students learned about health care in America by seeing uninsured patients at remote medical centers.

When I consider my own external 20/20 vision, I recall feelings of exclusion when not being offered a position while some said, “Rabbi, you have an accent!” I learned to remind those people that their ancestors were immigrants also.

I welcome with hope the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that the protections provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are also extended to LGBTQ individuals, thereby making it illegal for workplaces to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, and blocking the elimination of DACA, protecting more than 100,000 Texans from immediate threat of deportation. These decisions will help America have “a better vision.”

We have accents, different skins, different religious beliefs and different political beliefs.

But, we are all human beings.

Let us stand up together to exercise our freedoms, while observing physical distance and keeping our mouths and noses covered but with an open soul and energy to fight injustice peacefully and in a democratic way. Let us remember that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Yes, my son, you are right! We live in the year 2020, but the world does not have your 20/20 vision; it does not have a perfect vision. Let us stand together because by doing so, we can help the world acquire glasses and make it a better America so that you and your generation have a better future.

Dr. Claudio Javier Kogan is a police chaplain in the Rio Grande Valley and director of the UTRGV School of Medicine Institute for Bioethics and Social Justice.