I am no stranger to Death.
We’re not friends in the traditional sense, but I do consider us to be associates at the very least. We have danced together on occasion to music no one else could hear, our bodies pressed tightly against one another, moving in flawless unison until a final note lingered in the air and we bid farewell. For now…
I’ve also stood alone, a shy and silent wallflower, watching it sweep my loved ones off of their feet before whisking them away to secret places I could not follow.
Death as a character is one of fascination and reverence for a writer, an omnipotent and intoxicating creature who ushers every soul into the Great Unknown with a leaden wave of its scythe. I’ve thought about it many times in the past but under the crushing weight of a global pandemic… I think about it a lot more often these days.
I am not afraid of Death. Not even a little bit.
When I was a child, the physical experience of dying was the most terrifying phenomenon I could possibly imagine — even though I hadn’t yet sustained much in the way of catastrophic loss. That came much, much later.
Life has long since erased any fear of death I once held.
Bearing that in mind, however, let me be clear: I’m not ready to move on to the next plane of existence. I don’t want to go anywhere right now.
It’s the law of the land and we’re not allowed to, anyway.
I haven’t seen the northern lights yet. My books remain unfinished. I have important things to write and thoughts to share with people who probably don’t want to hear them, and new experiences wait for me just around the next corner.
But if I did die tomorrow, or next week, or next year, I’m not afraid of what comes next. If I died tomorrow, the world would continue to turn. I find genuine comfort in that knowledge.
Still, I don’t want to die and plenty of other people don’t, either.
In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we must continue to approach the act of social-distancing with the seriousness it demands. We need to listen and heed the advice coming from medical professionals and epidemiologists who know what they’re talking about and consider the experiences of those in other countries who have, like us, found themselves in the throes of battle against a foe unlike any they’ve seen in their lifetime.
Perhaps most importantly right now, members of the United States government need to understand that human life is infinitely more valuable than the stock market or someone’s bottom line. It just is.
In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln said our government “of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
But perish, it apparently did. When Lincoln delivered those iconic words more than 150 years ago, he didn’t know those in charge of the government might one day contemplate the notion that some people’s lives are simply less important when compared to the financial stability of a small fraction of societal elites and their associated corporations.
Last week, Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.) referenced the current American government’s position regarding its citizens returning to work during this pandemic and said, “in the choice between the loss of our way of life as Americans and the loss of life, of American lives, we have to always choose the latter.”
Are those really the only available options?
What this pandemic continues to teach us every day is how much our society had previously undervalued those who are among the now “essential” workforce, for they are the people who truly sustain the American way of life.
We do have a choice, here – there is always a choice and we need to make the choice to adapt.
Because change has arrived at lightning speed. The economy will most likely re-open in waves but until there is a vaccine available or herd immunity is established, we’re not taking our masks or gloves off anytime soon.
We need to ensure that those who are out of work are sustained through this catastrophic time of suspended animation – by whatever means necessary – including relief provided through repeat stimulus dollars, mortgage forgiveness that won’t result in a several-month lump sum suddenly due at the “end” of this prolonged hiatus, installment payment plans for utilities and other bills, ample food assistance, and emergency Medicaid expansion.
We also need to ensure that every one of our essential workers is equipped with the protective equipment necessary to prevent COVID-19 infection as they toil in their respective industries and guide the rest of us through this pandemic.
Beyond all of these things, however, we also need compassion. Empathy. An understanding that money and a stellar stock portfolio is not everything — and it never was.
From that startling and late revelation, we’ll witness growth. Rebirth. We’ll learn what it truly means to take care of one another because our lives rest in each other’s hands right now.
(Speaking of hands: When is the last time you washed yours?)
Maybe we’ll finally begin to see the value in universal healthcare and take steps toward making it a reality in the United States. We’ll pioneer new ways to live and work safely going forward, adapting as much as we can to a remote working environment while addressing safety issues for those job roles that require personal interaction.
But a return to “normal” life cannot be rushed out of fear or a sense of urgency over finances.
We absolutely must put human life ahead of the economy. The moment we assign a greater value to money over the lives of Americans – of anyone living on this earth, in fact – we’ve not only lost the war against the virus, we’ve lost our humanity altogether.