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“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” – Woodrow Wilson

All over the United States there will be empty chairs at the Thanksgiving dinner table in a few days, people making small sacrifices for the sake of safety—and those who won’t.

It is projected that 50 million people plan to travel for the holiday, against the CDC recommendation to stay home.

After the Canadian Thanksgiving the COVID numbers rose dramatically. The U.S. is anticipating the same as people trade safety for sentiment.

I had planned on spending Christmas with my mother this year after the implosion of her 90th birthday plans over the summer. She lives in Tennessee—and who knows how many more Christmases there will be with her?

But pragmatism has pushed sentiment aside; it would be foolish of me to travel there this year given the risks.

In speaking with her, I framed my decision as a longer-term one: I’d rather spend quality time with her next summer than risk both of our aging immune systems this winter.

I expected her to express some sort of disappointment (and she was, I’m sure, as I am) but her response reframed my focus and expanded it from my isolated, individual choice to a larger collective one.

“I understand, dear. The greater good. We can all be in service right now to the greater good.”

We talked, then, about her generation, about the notion of service, WWII and the shortages she remembers—sugar, chocolate, stockings—and of the way sacrifice was woven into the fabric of the world’s uniform: people united behind a common cause for the higher good.

We seem to have strayed from those values when many people push-back from health safety measures, claiming infringement on personal freedoms.

When staying at home, with our electronic connection and entertainment access, and wearing a mask—hardly “sacrifices”—have become a political football, we have traded ideals for ideologies.

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Like everyone else, I have COVID fatigue and have grown weary with the weight of the uncertainty of humanity’s future.

So, I compensate—when thinking about the chaos of the collective—by zooming in on the few small ways I can make a difference, ways I can contribute to the well-being of the community.

Things like the kinds of conversations I have, where I direct my attention, counting my blessings, curtailing complaining, wearing a mask, staying home.

Small sacrifices indeed.

In service to the greater good.

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