Editor’s Letter: Is It Possible to Find Reason for Optimism?

Even amid all this gloom, I believe it is

There was a time not long ago when it was normal to greet friends with a hug, when seeing neighbors approaching on the sidewalk didn’t send us scurrying to safety across the street. We used to be able to dash out for milk without the kind of elaborate precautions you’d take to visit Chernobyl. But that was life B.C. Before COVID-19. Back when we were free to take such things for granted.

How distant that world seems now.

It’s tempting amid all the dire headlines to dwell on the past, on all that this evil pathogen has taken from us. But there’s nothing comforting or productive in looking back. As we all cope with our frightening present, we must also begin to look ahead. When this crisis passes, we all wonder, what will our new normal be?

Dan Caccavaro - hour optimism
Dan Caccavaro

What’s clear, above all, is that the devastation here in Detroit will be immense. Months of idled assembly lines are a crushing blow to automakers that had rebounded from near ruin to once again lead the world. Gone is an estimated $400 million infusion from the much-anticipated, now-canceled North American International Auto Show. The city’s dining industry, which had been such an exciting beacon of Detroit’s renaissance, is teetering on a knife’s edge. But the true toll here — in one of the country’s hardest-hit cities — will be measured not just in lost livelihoods, but in lives cut short. And the magnitude of that loss will be incalculable.

Amid all this gloom, is it possible to find reason for optimism? I believe it is.

The first signs of hope followed quickly on the heels of the first reported COVID-19 cases. A March 13 post on my neighborhood’s Nextdoor read, “For elderly without friends and family nearby.” Its author offered help with groceries and errands to anyone at risk or alone. Similar posts soon followed. As our collection of tales from the first weeks of the pandemic shows, the outpouring of kindness has equaled the weight of grief and loss.

As Desiree Cooper writes in her powerful essay this month, the instinct in this oft-hit city is not to despair, but to do, to help. That impulse can be seen in Ashley Winn’s story this month about North End neighbors who, long before COVID-19, had already banded together to look after one another. They take their commitment to each other so seriously they’ve coined a term for themselves: “professional neighbors.”

Above all, we all are awed and inspired by the front-line medical heroes we honor on our cover this month with an original oil painting by Detroit artist Luke Mack. In the face of an extremely contagious and deadly virus, and despite shortages of personal protective equipment, they are marching into our ERs and ICUs to care for our sick and dying. Some have contracted COVID-19, recovered, and returned to work. Others have not survived.

This is the true spirit of Detroit. What I find encouraging — what gives me hope — is the knowledge that this spirit was there all along. It will see us through this. And it will guide us long after this crisis has passed.