The New York Times has their front page ready for tomorrow, when we hit that number: six columns of names, places, some brief phrase culled from the person’s obituary. There are no images, just names. It’s powerful and provocative and is the first thing I’ve seen that tries to present to us what we’re living through.
I wish they had given their entire Sunday paper over to the whole of it, to print every single one of these 100,000 names, with the sparest of details – name, place, phrase – and if they had, the Sunday edition of The New York Times would be 100 pages long — and have nothing in it but them.
I wish they had because I think we need to understand, to try to understand, to try to grapple with what we are living through.
This is the equivalent of one person dying every minute of every day for 70 days straight.
This is the equivalent of a person dying every second of every hour of every day for a month.
When do we get to mourn as a nation?
When will people stop arguing about wearing masks?
When will people take a minute to realize what has happened, how many families are grieving, how many lives are lost?
When do we stop caring about how bored we are?
For 20 years we have recited the names of the nearly 4000 who died that Tuesday in NY & PA. It takes nearly 4 hours.
This list would take nearly 100 hours to read, or 4 days, reading non stop.
How will we grieve this? What is even possible? Since our minds can’t make sense of it, there is no ritual that would satisfy the requirements of loss at so great a scale. We can’t make sure every family, every person who was lost, finally gets their memorial, their moment in time, their celebration of life. No, the reality is that they have died watery deaths – no body, no memorial, no gathering, no last rites.
And that is not the beginning of what is horrible about any of this.
Today I will not murk the loss and sadness and grief with finger pointing or mockery of our leadership. I will do that on another day, at another time, and I sure as fuck will do that in November.
Right now I just want to contemplate what it means to live in a culture where a hundred thousand families can’t grieve with each other and instead we’re arguing about masks and so called freedom, where healthcare workers are being accused of villainy or conspiracy.
Right now I just want to say: turn it off. Turn off all the social media. Forget the sarcasm, and the clever “coronavirus likes this” image, the innumerable clever gifs, the everything. But my god, especially the funny. This is no time for scoring a point or having the right emoticon.
This is only a time for grief: collective, wailing, keening, uncategorizable, overwhelming grief.
Sit with it. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Pet a cat. Throw a ball. But remember, with the whole of you, how many people are missing that person they said the prayer for, the pet they loved together, the games they saw together.
We will, I predict, become 80x more callous than we are today if we don’t.
So sit with it. Let your humanity light up a minute of your life. For once in your life, be uncomfortable. Try to reconcile the irreconcilable and fail. Imagine the one loss, or two, or twelve that you’ve experienced. Remember in your guts how it felt, in your head.
There is no way for us to reconcile this loss, to respect it, to grieve it. We could be silent for a month, not talk for a month, maybe. We could light 100,000 candles and still not understand, because every grief, every loss, is inconsolable. Anyone who has lost someone important knows this; everyone who has cried and not slept or slept too much or drank too much or not eaten or eaten too much knows this.
We all know what this loss means, what it is, why it hurts, or we all could, if we stopped, stopped everything, stopped arguing, stopped posting, stopped worrying.
Grieve with me.
Take those four days – the days it would take to read their names out loud – and just grieve.
I don’t know when my four days will happen, but that’s what I’m going to do: no talking, only fasting, only prayer. I think I’ll start the morning after we officially hit 100,000 so that I can tie up loose ends and put up an automatic reply to my email and a note on Facebook because those are the concessions the living demand.
Join me. Let the world go dark for a minute for these, our one hundred thousand dead.