Monday was a pretty quiet day at the Schneider Haus. I frankly don’t have a lot to say from our little orbit, but I was thinking a lot about where we are and how far we’ve come since COVID first made its appearance last year.

While I was making dinner, I listened to President Biden’s speech memorializing those we’ve lost to this pandemic. More than 500,000 American lives lost. It is a stunning number, and I’ve thought a lot about something he said in the speech. It’s hard to conceptualize a number like that, and we shouldn’t let it make us numb to what’s happened in the last year.

Going back in time and working on this book has me realizing just how we’ve been like the frog in the boiling water analogy. Put a frog in boiling water and it’ll notice right away. But put a frog in room temperature water and slowly bring it to a boil, and it won’t notice.

We’ve adapted to the horror of it and in many ways tried to just plow through it. Could be that some of that was noble, and some of that was stupid. I don’t think we’ll fully grasp it until we are years removed and have some perspective.

On the one hand, we have had to find ways to get on with our lives. On the other hand, what constitutes necessary and unnecessary risk? We ask ourselves that question a lot, and I think part of what has made this time so incredibly difficult is that people have wildly different ideas on what is appropriate and safe. And as if that weren’t bad enough, there is harsh judgement between those who perceive the virus and safety protocols very differently.

I’ve said it before, and I maintain that history and removed perspective will show that we lived through a historic failure of leadership and citizenship. Even if you look past all the logistical stuff like testing, tracing and other preventative measures, just the fact that something as simple as face masks were politicized and demonized wound up growing into something that has caused real damage. We’ve subsequently spent months tearing ourselves apart as a country over a basic safety precaution that should have been seen as a civic duty and the greatest sense of respect and care for those around us. Me, I’m proud of my mask collection.

I bring this up becasue I did just read that the director of the National Institutes of Health recently said that politicization of masks probably cost tens of thousands of lives. I personally think that might be a conservative estimate. I’ve often wondered how much damage this one issue has caused.

To be clear, I don’t think masks are 100 percent cure all, nor do I think universal mask wearing would have stopped COVID entirely. We were going to have a terrible run with this, no matter what. I know some will say that we don’t know 100 percent that more mask wearing would have helped. We maybe don’t know 100 percent, but we probably know about 95 percent that it would have helped. It’s a pretty s straightforward premise, tried and true. Put it this way, our house has usually gone through a few colds and stomach bugs by this point in the season, and this near, nada. Clearly wearing those masks has kept all kinds of things away.

I really think that had there been clear, consistent national guidelines and it was treated as a national emergency not a political football, we would have been so much better off. In any other time, I’m pretty sure that’s what would have happened. But of course, this is not just any other time.

It bothers me because I do believe that it’s possible schools could have faced less disruption and life could have been closer to normal if people didn’t insist on an all or nothing approach, where they refused  or fought any basic lifestyle changes. Call me idealistic, but other countries had longer stretches of decreased cases because everyone was willing to sacrifice a little.

But here, all too often there is an attitude that individual freedom of even trivial things is more important than the public good. I don’t personally consider it a sacrifice of freedom to wear a piece of cloth over my my mouth and nose if it decreases the chance of me getting sick or getting other people sick. To me, that’s courtesy, caring and a desire to contribute to public good. It’s not difficult. My kids, one of whom is on the autism spectrum and is sensitive about a lot of things, has no difficulty or complaint whatsoever putting a mask on.

I say all this in the real and sincere hope that someday we’ll be able to look more clearly on this time, understand the mistakes we made, and maybe see that common cause, working together and a little inconvenience or sacrifice doesn’t have be bad. Just ask the Greatest Generation. I’m pretty sure they were OK with a little sacrifice in the name of a better world.

It’s easy to look around and lose faith that such a thing might ever be possible. I sure struggle with it. But I refuse to give up believing we are better than that, and that we can capture that united spirit again.

We’ve lost a lot in the last year. I’m sure all of us know people who suffered through COVID, and most of us know someone who didn’t make it. Let’s not become numb to that. Let’s make a better future for those of us still here in the name of those who aren’t.