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My dear friend’s mother died this week of COVID-19. She would’ve died sometime, anyway. We all will. But she died now because people in a retirement facility were infected. The virus is culling the elderly, and many would be content if it did no more than that—eliminating thousands and tens of thousands of elderly and disabled. Many can’t think of a reason we tolerate so many aging folk, anyway. The days when the elders were respected for their experience and consulted for their perspectives have all but disappeared. They can’t keep up. Let them die and leave us their assets.
Many embrace our administration, although its members are generally not young, because they seem to be rich and privileged. Crowding near them, many hope to be infected with privilege and sainted by separation from the masses. To preserve the dream of joining the privileged, many happily turn a blind eye toward the persecution of others. To them, God loves our president and follows the Far Right.
Of course, COVID-19 kills more than the elderly. Some of the victims are people no one would have suspected of being vulnerable—medical personnel, middle-aged parents, children, babies. Death is easier to tolerate if you can keep it at a distance. And it’s a matter of publicity. What kind of press do the deaths receive? The country gasped and mourned when the Twin Towers fell in 9/11, and the towers fell over and over and over and over again on every television channel until viewers were numb. Yet we have far more deaths from COVID-19—too many to care about? Real death—not exciting and not distant—depresses viewers who want to be entertained—bad for ratings.
One Facebook person commented that we might take the virus deaths more seriously if people were falling in public, writhing in the streets as they expire—as they did during the Black Death. What we don’t see, doesn’t seem to affect us. On TV, we’ve witnessed certain horrific murders as they happened, but if the victim wasn’t someone we know or identify with—someone with enviable privilege—who cares? Many are actually cheered by imagining killing anyone who disagrees or tries to regulate. Spoiled children despise authority and love control.
Quarantine gives us a chance to examine our priorities. But most don’t. To be honest, we’re both grieved and relieved if loved ones can die painlessly when the quality of living has drained away. We’re relieved because we love. And we need mind-soothing entertainments as we need human company. We tell ourselves we aren’t the ones who will die, so who cares?
My friends. They care. COVID-19 isn’t usually painless. When it doesn’t kill, it can still warp people’s futures. And I care. People shouldn’t be disposable—even people we don’t like. Loving strangers isn’t easy. But if we remember WE are strangers to so many, WE are disposable to so many, it’s a little easier to remember there are no people who have no stories, no histories, no potential futures. The elderly have more stories than most—stories that slip away with the final, labored breath. So I wear a mask. It may not make an iota of difference, and it may save a story until it can be told, a life until it can be lived to the last page.