Requiem for a Quarter Million People
Our country has lost the contributions of a quarter million people to the coronavirus.
The loss we are experiencing is neither primarily a political problem nor an economic one. Obviously, losing that many people will send ripples through our politics and disrupt the economy.
We are inundated every day with arguments about what we need and do not need to do and how we can recover. I have my own opinions about wearing masks, social distancing, economic stimulus, and other related issues.
There is something, though, more significant than any of these questions.
I talk with people almost every day. Many of us who are not facing direct challenges and difficulties of our own feel empty and tired. We are all tired of dealing with the pandemic, and afraid, but there is something more, something deeper.
Few, if any, of us do not know someone who has died because of the coronavirus. Even if we have never met anyone in person we know the names of people we have lost to the pandemic. We feel the weight of losing a quarter million people to an illness few of us had even heard of a year ago.
Many of us in this country look at what has happened around the world and cannot understand how we could lose so many people.
It is easy for us to become caught up in arguing about effective ways to defeat the virus and who is responsible. We distract ourselves with the details of trying to protect ourselves and the people we love. Many of us feel sorry for people who have lost people close to them, but also relieved if it is not happening to us.
The threat of this virus overwhelms us.
Losing a Quarter Million People
The essential fact of this coronavirus is it kills people. Some of us are more susceptible to being killed than others. We do not yet understand the virus’ long term effects.
Many of us pour our time and energy into trying to control the pandemic. We try to focus on specific information and know as much as we can. It is as if we believe knowledge will keep us safe.
Others of us refuse to trust much of what we hear about the coronavirus. We seek truths from obscure sources and remote corners of the Internet. Many of us seem to believe we are essentially on our own and we stockpile what we need.
I believe the people working to exhaustion on the frontlines of responding to the virus are engaged in a spiritual struggle. They deal with death and loss each day and it is taking a toll on them. Their heroic efforts need support and help.
The rest of us face the same spiritual struggle. It is easy for us to watch or read news about the pandemic and experience it as an analytical exercise. We are wrapped up in our own lives, focused on deciding what to do next.
I believe the nature and speed of this pandemic has caught us unprepared and thrown us off guard. We are immersed in a society in which the death we worked so hard to avoid has become an everyday truth.
Some of us watch the exploding numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths as if the virus were a sporting event. We watch the changes in state rankings like a competition. Some of us watch just to find out what will happen next.
It is easy for us to lose sight of the deepest, most significant part of this pandemic.
Recognizing a Quarter Million People
Each person who has died because of the coronavirus was a living, breathing person. Every individual contributed something unique which made our country what it is.
Even people who died alone and abandoned meant something to someone.
It is not a surprise when losing a quarter million people affects the fabric of spiritual life. As the coronavirus continues to spread it will be even easier for us to feel overwhelmed. We will become so absorbed by the physical demands of treating people with the virus it will be easy for us to forget about the spiritual issues.
The spiritual demands the virus places on us come at a time when we feel the limits of our spiritual resources. Many of us are not able to rely on spiritual practices and disciplines we have developed in the past. It is a struggle to find new ways to live spiritual life at exactly the time we most need them.
We urgently need to take time to pause, rest, and practice being open to spiritual life within us and around us.
Recognizing and paying attention to the loss of a quarter million people can be a step into being open to spiritual life.
Listening to a Quarter Million People
When we take time to stop and listen we become more open to the voices of the people we have lost.
We can begin to set aside our own fears and anxieties and listen to the quarter million people who are missing. What will they tell us or encourage us to do?
It is a challenge for us to listen to the people we have lost to the pandemic. When we do listen we can start to let go of what holds us back. We can begin to incorporate their wisdom and their courage into our own actions.
The voices of people we have loved and lost continue to shape our lives and bring out the best in us.
I take time to listen to people I have lost, and the pain of losing them begins to be transformed in me. We share laughter and tears, and they encourage me to take another step.
When will we take time this week to listen to the quarter million people we have lost to the pandemic?
How has losing a quarter million people to the coronavirus changed our country?
[Image by nikoretro]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.