“Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in their leader. Great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves.”― Eleanor Roosevelt
In March 2020, the Covid-19 virus demanded Guam get comfortable with being uncomfortable. PPEs, ventilators, social distancing and the incessant violation of civil liberties all became the new normal.
In August 2020, the virus surged upon our island and feasted on innocent lives amid Guam’s decrepit government hospital facilities, crumbling public health clinics and bloated civil service payroll filled with nonessential politically appointed employees. While Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were amazed as the islands of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia suffered few Covid casualties, Guam was conspicuous as the worst hit U.S. territory on the planet.
Too many people died as the virus overwhelmed our forsaken, broken public health systems. While the world offered better pandemic control solutions, Guam followed obscenely expensive, ill-informed decisions from Washington, D.C. into Covid hell.
We witnessed our friends die lonely deaths without the presence of loved ones by their side when they took their last breath. We saw people grieving on their own with no comfort in sight. We endured burials without funerals. We lamented hundreds of broken-hearted families who could not hug or embrace one another because of quarantine and isolation government mandates.
Somewhere in purgatory, a cherub observed, “If the truth makes you uncomfortable, don't blame the truth. Blame the lies Guam politicians told you that made you feel too comfortable.”
Life is not in the breaths that we take, it is in the moments that take our breath away. Despite our plethora of temperature monitors and brand-new glamping hospital tents, Guam’s ability to buy fancy medical stuff at the last minute does not show how good we are as a medical community. Rather, it is the choices that we made prior to this pandemic that truly defined Guam in 2020. Deferred hospital maintenance, grossly paid special projects coordinators, and rampant payroll politics are all specific examples of sins of commission that have damned GovGuam’s sorry response to the existential threat which is Covid-19.
In its continued narcissistic obsession with self-preservation, GovGuam broke the sacred trust of the people who died from Covid. Rather than to make things better, GovGuam manifested the breath-taking truth that nobody owes you anything. Too many GovGuam people are content to institutionally lie, cheat and steal to stay ahead. But it does no good to get mad and be high and mighty and upset about this reality because anger isn’t going to fix the Guam Memorial Hospital any time soon. As the piously stoic Mother Teresa probably once said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Somebody once observed that we gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which we look fear, uncertainty and disappointment in the face. We can now say, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” After the virus has come and punched us collectively in the gut, we now must do the things we thought we could not do. The pain, anguish and mourning inflicted by this pandemic must become the hope and promise of inafa’maolek.
Amid the sorrow and despair wrought by a virus intent on human annihilation, we hear reports of healing of the sick, redemption of the human spirit and random acts of kindness rising up from Guam soil. The cries of our island’s sick and grieving families will be turned to joyous song if GovGuam transforms from “titanos manahak” to a mind dedicated to the common good. Guam’s resurrection comes down to a simple choice: get busy living or get busy dying.
At the end of the day, great things never came from political comfort zones. The legacy we leave behind and the people whom we touch will be the final testament to our shared success during this great pandemic.
Leadership may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it. As the pandemic spread fear, disease and death, political leaders around the planet were held accountable. Some fell short but some rose to the moment, demonstrating empathy, elemental decency, resolve, respect for science and courage. Too late our leaders on Guam may find that you can be comfortable or you can be courageous but you cannot be both.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.