I’ve heard a lot of people saying that they’ve stopped listening to
or reading the news, that they don’t need to know how many fell ill or died from COVID-19 in the last day or the last hour. Sometimes one of the people I hear saying that is me. And that’s all right. We all have to to do what we can to take care of ourselves — though there are so many many many people now whose circumstances will prevent them from getting what they need.
So I do step back from the television and ignore the headlines that flash across the screen of my phone. I put down the New Yorker and pick up Lord Peter Wimsey. I owe it to myself and to my family, to the nurses and doctors at the hospitals, to society in general, to stay as sane and healthy as I can.
But then I start thinking about what we owe the dead.
I don’t know any of them — yet. I can’t imagine that I’ll get through this time of coronavirus and sorrow and incomprehensible loss and criminal stupidity without knowing someone who gets ill from the virus, someone who dies — without, perhaps, falling ill or dying myself.
But whether I ever know anyone who contracts COVID-19 doesn’t matter.
While this pandemic rages, while it takes lives and destroys the health, happiness, and fortunes of thousands, of millions, of (for a while) most of us, let us witness all we can stand to witness. Let’s those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to do so, take our breaks and catch our breaths, and then, if we can, let us witness as much as we can take in. Let us learn and remember names of strangers who have died without the solace of their loved ones, of the families left to gasp and mourn. Let us remember the dead in the aggregate, the inevitable deaths and the ones that could have been prevented if more people in our government had given a damn. Let’s write letters and journals and blogs to record the losses, the emotions, the unforgivable neglect by government officials, the kindnesses of neighbours, the teachers driving through neighbourhoods to cheer the students who can’t see them at school, the sacrifices of first responders, of doctors, nurses, postal carriers, store clerks, delivery folks, volunteers — of anyone who gave more than could be expected or should have been asked.
Let’s make it personal.
Let us note too, the almost eerie benefits, the way the earth has
seized this interminable moment to clear the air, to calm the crust. Let us remember the resurgence of birds and the quieter days that didn’t grate along our nerves. Let’s give thanks for the cessation of robo-calls and phone solicitations.
And when we figure out how to live with this virus, when we have a vaccine and cure, we should remember all we can and share what we remember, for no one of us will remember it all.
We are bound to hear. And that, my friends, is what I think we owe the dead.