Casualties

An uncle. A neighbor. The mom of a dear friend. A trooper. A journalist. Some recovered. Some have just tested positive. Others did not make it.

The list goes on.

I think everyone I know has been touched by this disease in one way or another. It’s harrowing. I keep thinking, it’s only a matter of time before someone closer to me is infected. It’s only a matter of time before it’s me.

Perhaps the most challenging thing is that there is no single target for our collective anger, sorrow, despair. There is no one person to blame, no singular event that triggered this seemingly endless trajectory of paralysis and misery.

In the early days, many were quick to blame China, but despite their government’s suspicious actions and motives, their people, their poor and sick, their women and children, have suffered and died too.

Some people have taken to blaming various people in government, from heads of state to ministers of health, from governors and mayors to police and military. And it’s true that so many things could have been done better, planned better. Many people could have acted with more compassion and patience, rather than vitriol and violence or lawsuits and trumped-up criminal charges. Many leaders could have spent more time thinking and consulting, rather than spewing hate and profanity and bribery.

But I don’t have the energy to be angry at them.

Some people have laid blame on the poor, for their insistence on leaving their homes, for not wearing masks, for not observing social distancing, for still trying to travel or work. And it’s true that those who insist on these things put themselves and other at greater risk of infection. But many of these people are doing these things not because they don’t care about getting sick; they do these things because they don’t want to starve.

How can you be angry at that? These people are scared too, but they’re also hungry, and jobless, and who knows what other hardships they’re suffering?

I don’t have the energy to be angry at them.

All I feel is despair. A quiet despair, a sense of fear, a crippling paralysis.

In years past, I might have figured out a way to help. I would have had the energy to lead some fundraising initiative, found people willing to help and linked them with people who needed help. But I don’t have the energy for that either.

All I feel is despair, a strong urge to crawl into my closet, to lie on the bathroom floor, and to wonder when we can run outside again. I think about what to say when my son says, “I want to go to the park.” I think about people who need help, and I remember that I have problems closer to home that need attention too, and a child to take care of. I feel selfish because my fear keeps me so near-sighted, but I remind myself that I cannot pour from an empty cup. I cannot help others if I do not help myself and mine first.

An uncle. A neighbor. The mom of a dear friend. A trooper. A journalist. So many casualties already.

But we have lost more than friends and family. We have lost safety and security. We have lost freedom of movement. We have lost the confidence that we know what will happen tomorrow. We have lost the ability to plan for next week, next month. We have lost jobs and lunches with officemates, birthdays and family gatherings, beach trips and mountains we want to climb. We have lost parks and swimming pools and places humming with life and activity. We have lost the trivial joy of wandering around a mall and chancing upon pretty clothes and incredibly tempting food. We have lost the serendipity of running into long-lost friends and the shock of coming across old flames. We have lost the solitude of bookstores and the frenzy of supermarkets.

We have lost so much. I do not have the energy to be angry because I am too busy trying not to think about the silly things we have lost, the silly things that brought us assurance and joy and comfort.

I mourn for those who are sick and who are dying, truly I do, but I mourn the loss of the lives we lived too. That seems to be the casualty we don’t think about.

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