At the end of the classic film, “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy, the naïve yet savvy heroine played by a young Judy Garland, wakes up in her bed on a bright morning following a frightening tornado and a grand, slightly nightmarish adventure of epic proportions. The sleepy Dorothy quickly realizes that it has all indeed been a dream, and she’s safe and sound at home.

If only the COVID-19 pandemic was the same: a global nightmare from which we will all awake on a sunny Midwestern morning, surrounded by the people we love most.

A Waking Nightmare

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus engulfing our planet, is a waking nightmare. In the context of “The Wizard of Oz,” it would certainly be personified as the Wicked Witch, and the evil flying monkeys the viral particles that viciously attack human cells and then proceed to relentlessly replicate in the millions.

When we escape into the promise of sleep’s oblivion, we hopefully enjoy some hours of pandemic amnesia, as long as the tentacles of the virus and the resulting daytime stress do not invade our dreams, robbing us of desperately needed and well-deserved rest and rejuvenation.

The nightmare of COVID-19 has brought the world economy to a virtual standstill; leveled many small businesses operating on a shoestring; rendered tens of thousands unemployed and struggling; and created logistical, medical, and operational chaos that has almost the entire planet on lockdown while fighting a persistent, virulent, and unseen enemy.

Pay no Attention?

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” is a long-used refrain from this beloved film. Like Nero fiddling as Rome burned, certain governmental leaders around the world have been pulling the levers of politics and fear while ignoring the crisis at hand.

Delay, denial, and finger-pointing have done little for the cause, and some politicians may eventually pay a price for cynicism and inaction when inspired action was called for.

The battle lines have been drawn, and they touch every segment of society, members of every class, and citizens of all ages. While we originally thought that children were safe from infection, the news brings us reports of deceased infants and even teenagers falling ill and dying.

While a large percentage of those infected do indeed recover, many asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers have unwittingly spread the virus either by ignoring social distancing mandates or by dint of living in a municipality, state, country, or province where the political leadership is less than stellar, and perhaps in dangerous denial.

We cannot easily make this nightmare go away, and we need the brain of the Tin Man, the courage of the Lion, the heart of the Scarecrow, and the magic powers of Glenda the Good Witch to tackle this situation head-on. Dorothy’s naivete is certainly not a help in this instance, but her determination to get to Oz is a prime example of the grit we require. Meanwhile, Toto the dog can symbolize fierce loyalty to the human family and the eager determination to get the job done no matter what.

If I Only Had a Brain

The Scarecrow sang, “If I only had a brain,” and that is what many may wonder in terms of those leaders and citizens who have hid their heads in the sand and wasted precious time — and likely cost us some very precious lives.

The brain is crucial here: science, critical thinking, the art of deduction, and the ability to think clearly under duress while utilizing the scientific process to get to the bottom of the many puzzle pieces that will eventually lead to our taming of this pandemic.

The public health system in the United States has been dismally dismantled, and we can only hope that this emergency situation will teach Americans once and for all that, although public health isn’t sexy like the ER or ICU, it often happens in the background without our noticing how it protects us every day of our lives. If our brains can see this reality, we stand a chance when the next pandemic inevitably rears its ugly head.

Courage with a C

The Lion’s courage is yet another characteristic desperately needed at this time. Nurses, physicians, surgeons, EMTs, paramedics, police officers, anesthesiologists, and others are putting their lives on the line with incredible courage.

Grocery store staff, laundromat operators, gas station attendants, mail carriers, and countless others are no less courageous and crucial than the most seasoned ICU nurse.

Courage is in large supply, and we cannot win this war without it.

Activating our Hearts

Beyond science, inspired action, and good old elbow grease to get the job done, we need heart. Compassion, kindness, generosity, service, healing, love, and tenderness all have a purpose here as well.

From a kind neighborly gesture to a shopper bowing in gratitude to a grocery store cashier exposed to hundreds of potentially infected people per day, expressions of thankfulness and praise have an untold power to soothe and heal an anxious psyche. Heroism comes in all forms, and loving others unconditionally because they’re as human as we are is a simple yet heroic act indeed.

Are You a Good Witch?

If we ever needed Glenda the Good Witch, it’s now. Whether she’s embodied by the aforementioned heroic grocery store cashier or the homeless person on the street corner who thanks you with a wink and a dazzling smile for the granola bar you gave him, goodness is everywhere.

There is magic in our best impulses, and there’s healing in the coming together of hearts, whether they belong to the cowardly Lion or an ICU nurse holding the hand of a middle-aged woman who has just lost the love of her life to COVID-19.

The good witches are everywhere, and their presence is like a balm.

There’s No Place Like Home

They say that home is where the heart is, and living in our own skin is as good a home as any. Those previously mentioned nurses, surgeons, and mail carriers need to feel safe and at home, and the smiling homeless man may be crying inside because his home is a grubby tent by the railroad tracks.

COVID-19 is a massive test of the human spirit and our ability to work together for the common good under duress. We can’t rely on one person behind the curtain to pull the levers and make it all better. We’re all the Tin Man, the Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy, Glenda, and even Toto and the Wizard himself.

Our public health system and pandemic response is not a panacea against all ills, yet it is indeed an Emerald City that we must keep polished and running like a well-oiled machine.

Let’s play our roles to their utmost, and then take a bow and have a good rest when we’ve finally slain the Wicked COVID-19 Witch and laid her to rest. And then we can say, “there’s no place like home,” and truly believe that our home is indeed one another.