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Dr. Gerard Clancy: United Way gives us a chance to get back in the narrative

Dr. Gerard Clancy: United Way gives us a chance to get back in the narrative


“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” is the closing song from the Lyn-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical “Hamilton.” One of the song’s most inspiring lyrics comes from Eliza Hamilton, who declares, after she was crushed by Alexander Hamilton’s death: “I put myself back in the narrative. I stop wasting time on tears. I live another 50 years.” The song goes on and tells of Eliza’s work to build an orphanage and speak out against slavery.

As Eliza Hamilton describes, we all can look back and forward on our lives as a narrative of chapters.

For example, my first chapter of life, a run up to the age of 10, I was focused on where I fit in with my large family — second to last out of the eight. Between 10 and 20 years old, I learned to work. At age 14, I closed my lawn mowing business to step up to dishwasher at Howard Johnsons. Between 20 and 30 years old, I fell in love with my wife, and we learned the benefit of building a strong foundation of knowledge through a college education. From 30 to 50 years old, raising our children in Tulsa was our greatest joy.

From 40 to 60 years old, I also had the honor to be part of the start of Tulsa’s next transformation by standing in several servant leadership positions including being the chairman of the Tulsa Area United Way, the Tulsa Mental Health Plan and the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce as well as president of the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa and, later, the University of Tulsa. At the start of 2020, I started my next chapter by planning to slow down a little, focus on teaching students and taking care of patients with mental illness.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic took us all my storm. Driven by the lockdown and economic strains, many of our narratives were at best put on hold, with hopes of a return to normal soon. But the relentless virus did not abate and instead has now killed more than 260,000 Americans. As it expanded across the U.S., the virus accelerated America’s health disparities with much higher COVID-19 death rates among Black and Hispanic community members.

For so many of us, 2020 may be written as another chapter full of fear, heartache and the prolongation of placing our lives on hold. But while we are on hold, there are great needs that cannot wait. Earlier this year, I began to see rising needs regarding our society’s high levels of distress with dramatic increases in suicidal crises and substance abuse.

So, I “put myself back in the narrative” as a frontline health care worker in full personal protective equipment all day long, staffing a large hospital’s emergency room, intensive care units and COVID-19 isolation units and as a participant in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. For me, there are still periods of fear and heartache, but these emotions are far outmatched by a sense of fulfillment in helping our fellow community members.

Today, there are many opportunities to re-join safely the narrative such as supporting our health care workers, teachers, law enforcement and other essential workers, staying safe and wearing masks. As we close out 2020, I want to highlight the nation-leading Tulsa tradition of giving to the Tulsa Area United Way as one of those opportunities. Tulsa’s United Way agencies have always helped so many with needs around mental illness, addiction, housing, health care, financial security, domestic violence and child abuse. In 2020, each of these societal needs has been compounded by the pandemic.

Giving to the Tulsa Area United Way — what a great way to put yourself back in the narrative. For more information on aiding with the 2020 United Way campaign, go to:

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Gerard Clancy, MD, is senior associate dean and University of Iowa Health Care and past chair of Tulsa Area United Way.

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