A Letter to the President Dear Mr. President

From Patricia Alllwood Hindman

Over the past few weeks, you have looked tired. I suppose we all are. We shouldn’t be because we have had the gift of time to rest. But we don’t know what to do with that gift. Relaxation is not in our vocabulary. Maybe learning how to rest is one of many lessons we can learn now.

I suspect you, like me and millions of Americans who grew up in the Fifties, were spoon-fed the importance of work. Work. Work. As for me, much of my value comes from work. I work when I am sick regardless of who I infect. I work when I am well regardless of the child that might need me at home. I work for my employer, my family, my church, my community. Never did I consider rest as valuable; I considered it as a ball-and-chain necessity in order to give me more time to produce work.

We are not used to not working, Mr. President. Our excessive work ethic is totally entwined with our self-esteem. And why shouldn’t it be? We are a nation of workaholics. Perhaps it is time to consider rest as critical to the health of the nation as work.

Work is a great American ethic. I wish there were more of it today. But now, when it has become necessary to refrain from work, we, frankly, suck at it. We are used to going to work with viruses that could infect the immune compromised or the elderly because “it’s just a cold” or “just the flu.” We can’t afford to lose pay; we don’t want to give up our sick days; our employers will think we are weak; our personal code tells us we are weak. And so we go, not learning the value of rest. Not knowing how to relax when we are granted the time. Not thinking of the weaker ones around us. Often, we build our self-esteem on work alone. At least we did, until the day the nation had to stop.

I wonder if other nations have had such a difficult time adjusting to isolation? France and Finland both get 25 days of paid leave plus 11 holidays. The EU gets a total of 20 days. In many countries, it is considered logical to close businesses for a couple of hours each day for rest. Most Americans take fewer than 10 days. Most employers frown on “calling in sick.” Most workers are penalized for more than their designated work days no matter the reason. And sometimes we, ourselves, work because we want more, not because we need more.

Yes, America wants to get back to work now. That’s good. It’s us. However, could death ratios be lower among the elderly and immune suppressant if we would learn a simple lesson. If you’re sick, stay home. Could our family lives improve if we take a little more time at home? Could we create more if we rested more?

I am the “chief of sinners” who needs to take my own advice. I proudly push myself to go, go, go even when I have already crashed. Now, however, I’m in the age group most vulnerable. So many who are not have given up so much in order to protect me. I am grateful for that. Thank you that you have taken time to rest.

Certainly this is a pandemic of cataclysmic portion, not a common cold. But could we learn a simple lesson here? Give us your tired….and let them rest. More paid vacation days, more employers who encourage sick people to stay home, more time to learn how to deal with time itself may be some of the most valuable aspects of this quarantine.

Thank you, Mr. President, for all you are doing. Thank you, America, for caring enough to protect the most vulnerable. May we all learn a small but critical lesson from this pandemic. We are crucial to so many. Let us learn to rest in order to work.

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