As the year 2021 winds down, one story dominates, not only marking the current year as indelible, but taking its rightful, yet rueful, place as one the most memorable periods in any year, and indeed any decade.
The event that has made 2021 so painfully memorable is of course COVID-19, among the most devastating and demoralizing events to upend the ordinary and largely unremarkable flow of time across the planet.
Enough has already been chronicled about COVID-19 to fill several volumes — as indeed it continues to do even as the year comes to a close. The ongoing stories contain several heroes, both noted and ignored, and far too many villains. The villains have earned their reputations for many reasons, none of them laudatory: indifference, neglect, poor decisions, inconsiderate decisions, inaction, hasty (too hasty) decisions, lack of consideration, misplaced consideration, disregard for the lives to many in the pursuit of ill-timed or misplaced glory or blame.
Indeed, there is ample blame to go around — and then some.
One group of Americans has largely escaped the blame-laying ritual. That group can be condensed into a single and simple, epithet: the retail pharmacist.
Our country’s retail pharmacists, those countless thousands of professionals, many taken for granted, others ignored or passed over for praise or recognition, have, almost alone, kept a global tragedy from becoming a global crisis beyond all measurement. As explanations, apologies and false starts have each become routine explanations and alibis for all that has gone horribly wrong or terribly misunderstand and mismanaged, those pharmacists who unfailingly and without complaint supervised, managed and manned the pharmacy counters across this country’s drug stores, supermarkets, discount stores and associated retail outlets have unfailingly showed up, done their jobs, and saved the United States from a death count that future historians would labor fruitlessly to chronicle and explain.
Perhaps the point of this overlong and overdue essay is that there is no point. These thousands of professionals were, after all, merely doing their jobs. Routinely, they comforted the afflicted, kept the yet-to-be-afflicted from harm’s way, soothed the inconsolable, reassured the frightened. In the bargain, they proved invaluable in keeping the retail doors open and functioning, educating the customers and reassuring the many U.S. communities that, yes, there would indeed be an unfrightening tomorow if only we could collectively survive the horrors of today.
Is there an adequate way to acknowledge or reward this new generation of heroes? Probably not. To pat them, collectively, on the back is perhaps a tribute that contains too little and comes too late. But a word or two of recognition, though coming belatedly, is perhaps in order. For too long have America’s leaders, lawmakers, politicians and pundits of various stripes and persuasions been bickering among themselves about where to place the blame for an event that perhaps should have been handled more efficiently and more quickly than has been the case.
As a counterweight to this incessant bickering and blame-laying, the time has perhaps come to pause, take a moment or two, and think a kind thought or say an appropriate word of thanks to a group of medical professionals who have done over the past year what they have always done: make America a better place to live.