Yesterday I wrote of someone else’s deepest sadness.
Today I write of my own.
The rain that fell with its staccato sound on my rooftop has given way to blue sky I can see through the thickness of the pines that dot my backyard here in Georgia. The yellow pine flowers that drop their dust everywhere this time of year are turning a deep gold. I can hear the birds chirping in the yard but the squirrels today are so far quiet, not scampering about the deck railing as they are wont to do.
I have never seen as many cardinals as I have this spring. The favorite bird of an elderly friend now ten years passed, I have wondered in a year filled with so much other death if she has been signaling to me somehow, channeling her spirit in heaven upon the landscape of my life.
I wrote yesterday of two other losses I suffered in this past year: my sister and my closest friend of 46 years. But those deaths aren’t what sadden me now.
Nor are the death totals I see daily from COVID_19; for them the sadnesses rushes over me in that moment, as does the grief I have felt for all those on Twitter who have announced the deaths of their loved ones. The ones to whom they couldn’t say a proper good-bye. Couldn’t be there with to hold their hand as they slipped from this world to the next.
No, my deepest sadness is that I no longer recognize my country. These past three years and three months it was becoming slowly more incomprehensible to me. But now I see it not at all.
I don’t see it in photos and video of people walking down the Michigan streets carrying AR-15s and Nazi or Confederate flags, demanding their “freedom;” or those sitting in their cars, honking their horns and bemoaning to reporters they can’t get to the beauty shop to get their roots done.
As if that were the greatest threat to liberty we have ever known. As if that were the end of the world.
I don’t see it in Constitutional scholars who spoke so movingly about our rights during Mueller but who now tweet that “herd immunity” is the only way out of this pandemic, and we must accept that some people will just have to die for it.
None of this is who I thought we were as a country. None of it.
I was raised by my maternal grandfather and his second wife; to me, however, they were my Dad and Mom.
Both born in the second decade of the 1900s, they lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. They knew what it was like to have food rationing, to do without sugar and flour and meat. To have gas rationed. To not be able to wear nylon stockings. To afford only the most basic things needed for survival. To raise children in a time of want.
They knew what it was like to work during real war time production demands; Dad as a plating supervisor at a Studebaker plant in South Bend, Indiana, while Mom worked as an Indiana Bell operator. I still have her employee pin she was given then; it was meaningful to her for so many different reasons.
They didn’t do these things for a few months and then say “Phooey, I am done with this. Germany isn’t ours to fight; yeah, so some more people will die. But we want our pantries to be fuller, to wear nylons again. As long as I am not the one who dies.”
But that is basically what some of us are saying. “Give me back my stadium seats at the [insert your sports team arena here]. I will never know whose Grandma died so I could get my seat back, so what do I care.”
“Herd immunity.” Such an antiseptic sounding term. So data driven, so mathematical and precise. An exercise in risk versus reward for a country that has been on staggered shutdowns for a grand total of four to six weeks and some change.
The Dow plunged. We’ve lost all our gains, however shall we go on? Yet when it happened in 2008, we found a way. When it crashed in 1929 we found a way.
Am I poorer than I would have been had 2008 never happened? Most assuredly. My home value dropped by $50,000 and has never made it back. Plus the money down.
But I still have it. It’s a great deal more house than my parents had when I was growing up. I have a son I love fiercely and a daughter-in-law I adore. I have good friends, a Church community and a cat who super-glues herself to my body wherever I sit or lay down.
I am blessed. We are blessed.
Because there is other science called testing. We can test for who has had this virus already, for who is an asymptotic carrier, for who is still vulnerable. And in a year to 18 months from now, we can have a vaccine to protect us all.
Meanwhile we can use that testing data and the contact tracing that goes with it to crunch new data that will allow us to re-open the country in a way that protects the most vulnerable and hopefully costs as little life as possible.
We don’t have to slaughter a vast portion of the herd to make our way back to better than it was.
But we do have to have the patience of Job to do it. Or even of those who lived through the Great Depression and turned around to then defeat fascism and save Europe and the U.S.
But that will take time. And in a country of greed and instant gratification – which is what we seem to have become – we aren’t willing to save a life if we can have a nano-second of more time to pursue our individual “liberty,” whatever that means.
Realizing this attitude is starting to take hold in the very best of people makes this the saddest day of my life. I had hoped for so much more.
I had hoped for an attitude of “when all of us are safe, we each of us are safe.”
A play on the thought that unless all of us are free, none of us are.
For those who think thoughts of “culling the herd,” it might save you and a few dollars for now.
But what will you do when this, or something worse, happens again? Who will you be in that time if you don’t have the moral courage and the willingness to be patient in this one?
Because you see, when one dies, we all die, sooner or later. And when we start saying it is acceptable to choose who lives and who dies, we all die piece by piece each day.
Are you willing to pick and choose who dies sooner so you can live a little later?
I’m just not.