Friday, June 2, 2023 -
Print Edition

Dr. Li Wenliang

Was there a pandemic this past year? The likes of which had not been seen in over a century? Tragically, did many Americans die? Was there a vaccine created, the fastest in history, hopefully to alleviate, or at least to manage, the situation? Were there hospital heroes who worked nights and days in truly trying and traumatizing circumstances? What about the ambulance paramedics? Grocery store workers?

Because to look at the cover of Time magazine’s person of the year, you wouldn’t know it. You wouldn’t know we are living through a global pandemic that has changed all of our lives and wrought tremendous pain for many, and the anxiety of uncertainty for all. The Time cover conveys a certain standard-ness, a certain run of the mill summation of a year, like it’s just another year.

Or just another election year.

Time chose to have president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. Which even in a normal election year wouldn’t really make sense, because even as they may — and I hope prove to — become wonderful leaders, they haven’t done anything yet. But, fine. In a routine year it wouldn’t really matter all that much.

But, in 2020? After all we’ve been through?

There’s a certain dissonance about this cover, a certain detachment from reality, from what has actually been taking place, and still is.

A certain finger on the pulse seems to be missing. Plus, especially now, why choose a cover that distances half of the country?

Of course, you can never please everyone. And generally speaking, Time magazine’s job shouldn’t be to aim to do that. But in a time of a pandemic, when the country is already wounded, and united and bound together by this wound of COVID, at least in this significant year, to sum it up would have printed a Time cover that cultivated solidarity. That was actually and authentically reflective of a true “person of the year” or “people of the year”; stand-outs of this uniquely challenging time. To make such a choice would have shown good judgment.

No one is asking me, but had I been asked for a short list of suggestions to grace the Time cover as a summation of this past year, I would have suggested the following people:.

Dr. Anthony Fauci. While he is not a total consensus person, overall he has been there for us all through this pandemic. A year ago at this time, most of us had never heard his name. Today, he is a household name. He has entered into all of our households, a caring, calm guide to us.

The heroes we were clapping for each night. The doctors, nurses, ambulance EMTs, hospital workers. They were, and are, in the trenches, on the front lines, so to speak. Where would we be without these angels who have had to rise to the occasion again and again? We owe everything to them.

Dr. Li Wenliang, the brave whistle-blowing ophthalmologist from Wuhan, China.

Last year at this time, he courageously tried to warn the world about the emergence of COVID. He had noticed a mysterious contagious virus, and despite the risk to himself, he immediately put out warning bells. Two months later, he had contracted the virus himself, and was tragically dead by February. His second child was born a short few months later.

He was only in his thirties, but possessed that rare depth of character to choose to risk his own life for the sake of humanity. It is people such as he for whom it is the farthest from their minds to be on the front page of anything, anywhere, but rather, who simply toil by their conscience to do what is right in the world. Even if it means paying the highest price. Which, heartbreakingly, he did.

The image of Dr. Li Wenliang lying in a hospital bed, intertwined with breathing tubes muzzling his face, will always be one of the first, unforgettable images of the pandemic.

You want a person of the year for 2020? Dr. Li Wenliang would have been a non-political choice, and one everyone could have agreed on, one who, in my book, is ultimately the true person of the year. Actually, forgotten person of the year.

He is the heroic person of this whole pandemic. May his name and legacy never be forgotten.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply