Roger Marolt: All will be calm. All will be bright.
How many people will miss you when you die? It may not be a daily ponderance, but it is mist on the periphery of consciousness, especially around holidays. Special days trigger memories, it intensifies them, even if more painfully so. Will ten people miss you when you are gone, or will it be closer to fifty? I am considering those who will miss you to their very core, the ones who really know you and are meaningfully affected by how you live your life. I will come back to this.
I read with amazement over the past week about the historic tornado that ripped along an estimated 230-mile course, causing death and destruction across parts of four states. Scientists studying this weather phenomenon are likely to declare it the longest twister ever recorded in the United States. Think about it: It would be like a cyclone touching down in Grand Junction and roaring all he way to Denver before being sucked back up into the sky. As a unashamed weather watcher, I find that dumbfounding.
They are estimating that this particular cell in the storm that also dumped a foot and a half of powder on our ski slopes, to our great delight, also killed more than five dozen human beings. This fact about the monster storm was not absorbed by the dry ground in my consciousness until well after all the other meteorological statistics of it sunk in.
When they eventually did, I was ashamed. The event extinguished more than 70 lives. The cumulative sadness surrounding those deaths is unfathomable. We simply cannot feel the pain of death except for a very narrow window of occurrence. We don’t feel anything close to its full affect when it happens to strangers and we certainly don’t feel it when we, ourselves, die. Most death is lumped into large statistical expressions that we might react to by saying “wow!” and then forgetting about fairly quickly.
So, how many of us authentically feel the pain of 800,000 dead in the U.S. from the COVID-19 pandemic, much less the more than 5 million killed worldwide from it? The enormity of the numbers is beyond human capacity to comprehend, perhaps surpassing our abilities to absorb the depths of pain to those close to the deceased whom are personally unknown to us. The incomprehensibility of big numbers is why people in Aspen don’t think twice about spending millions of dollars on a vacation home and then complain about the cost of dinner at a local restaurant.
If The Holidays don’t feel as bright and cheerful as we would like them to be, consider that they may also not feel as somber as they should. The conflict of hope with reality may be causing the continued unease that many of us feel below the surface of jolly expectations and which is felt more acutely during this season we have adopted for celebration, even if no more describable than the haunting by the Ghost of Christmases Past.
Let’s go ahead and try to feel what we actually feel the best we can and better than we have so far. Let’s free ourselves from the impossibility of personalizing massive death. Let’s make it about the living instead.
Getting back to the question I posed at the beginning, let’s suppose for discussion’s sake that 20 people would be acutely, deeply and lastingly affected by each and every one of our deaths. If so, that would convert 800,000 U.S. COVID deaths into 16,000,000 lives that have been devastated by this pandemic. That’s one out of every 20 people in our country. If there are 10 friends for each of these mourning people, that amounts to half the country experiencing acute sadness. If half the country is directly saddened, the other half undoubtedly feels it, even if it can’t describe what it is feeling or pinpoint where that feeling comes from.
The novel coronavirus has infected the entire world. Most of the sickness it has caused is in our broken hearts, we have no immunity against, and will linger indefinitely. No vaccine can protect us from the sorrow it causes. The true suffering from this natural disaster has settled upon us. The world is sad.
We need a silent night to reflect. The spirituality of The Holidays is the perfect time for it. Let’s give each other the gift of recognizing what we have all endured. Let’s give each other the room to mourn without politicizing it. The Pandemic will not endure. Our empathy toward each other can. May it lead to peace on Earth.
Roger Marolt remains long on hope during these shortest days of the year. email@example.com