“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
This week was really tough. The news that the US reached 200,000 deaths from Covid this week hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m not sure why, as I have to track this number every day for work, and quite frankly, I work on issues just as depressing if not more depressing than this number. (200,000 people is how many people die from malnutrition globally every 10 days. Turns out Covid isn’t the only problem around the world.)
But in any case, Americans are 4% of the global population but 22% of Covid deaths. And this is not by happenstance. This is because of a failure of global leadership that — I hate to break it to you — began long before our Cheeto President. It is true — look it up — that no Administration (Bush nor Obama) took Bill Gates seriously the past (literally) decade as he told the world that any day now our generation will be dealing with a pandemic of epic proportions.
The problem is not just global leadership now, but a systemic, flawed political system where we don’t listen and we push off problems until they become our problem. What’s worse, we don’t even address the problem when it becomes our problem, and instead promote denialism and blame-shift. We look at issues as four-year or eight-year problems we can appease, with little regard to long-term or preventive planning. We sleep through pandemic preparedness presentations (looking at you guys, Trump administration), divert funds to other resources (looking at you, every president ever) and turn a blind eye towards issues that may affect our re-election.
And now, here we are. Let me put it to you this way. Nearly 178,000 people died during World War I, the Vietnam War and 9/11 COMBINED. And still Covid killed more. In fact, today’s number of deaths from Covid is like a 9/11 attack every day for 68 days.
And before you think it’s getting better, deaths each day in the US still hover around 770, and a University of Washington model predicts the US will reach 400,000 deaths by the end of 2020. Plus, there’s no vaccine until at least 2021.
All the while, people still think Covid is a hoax, many don’t wear masks, and still more host large gatherings and open up their states as if an extra dollar could ever replace a human life.
Just like I am sure many of you, I am really moved to tears about all of this this week. I am mourning.
It’s been hard to spend time with people this week. When I grab dinner with a close friend, all I can think of is other people’s last dinners with friends before this virus took hold and killed them. When I think about a small gathering to celebrate a friend’s engagement, I can’t help but think of the wedding that killed seven people who did not even attend. When I walk to get coffee in between meetings, I am struck by the people experiencing homelessness on the street, wrapped in a blanket — shivering in the early fall, eating out of a trash can, coughing, yet still wearing a mask. I think of all the twits spending their days on Twitter — selfish, borderline inhumane individuals citing their own liberty over that of 200,000 innocent lives. Pathetic.
This was avoidable. A Columbia University study found that if each county in the US had acted just two weeks earlier to impose lockdowns, more than 90% of Covid deaths would have been avoided through early May. I think back to all the young people in New York City who went out for St. Patrick’s Day, and I want to throw up. Cuomo knew bars needed one last holiday to make money before being shut for months, and he chose their economic projection over human life.
[It was unavoidable for other reasons, too. We just don’t have time for that.]
“He didn’t know.” “We didn’t know.” “It seemed like nothing.”
When will humans stop acting like they can play science, or worse, play God, or that character is only based on how things “seem?”
I’m not just mourning the virus killing 200,000 Americans. I’m also mourning what the virus ruined for the other 328 million Americans: weddings, funerals, trips, family gatherings, cancer treatments, preventive care, schooling, a chance to get out of a dead-end neighborhood, graduation, college, jobs, more jobs, more and more jobs, church, asylum proceedings, a hope for a fresh start, apartment leases, friendships, relationships, marriages, mental health, office time, alone time, sleep.
And it’s not just about America. For the first time in 30 years, poverty is rising around the world. We have regressed in fighting polio, in vaccinating children against critical diseases that kill them under the age of five. Around 90% of children globally are out of school. Women do not have access to contraception. Violence in the home has risen. Femicide (the killing of women simply because they are women) rates are at record-highs across Latin America. Child marriages have skyrocketed. Streets are more dangerous. Dreams are squashed.
I am sad, angry, frustrated and disappointed. I can’t be my outgoing self, joking around about how I want to travel to Europe. It just doesn’t feel right.
After reading Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” I am reminded that not only is it a blessing to mourn, but Jesus calls me to mourn, and He comforts me right then and there.
This is my mourning, and I do feel Jesus’ comfort. I hear Him telling us to trust in Him, to lean not on our own understanding, to show each other grace, to hope for better and for more, to love each other deeply and fully and to run to Him.
I hear Him telling us that there is hope on the other side. Not tomorrow. Not in 2021. But in eternity, where there is no suffering, no viruses, and where connection produces love instead of spread.
I have immense hope, not in this world or this lifetime, but in Jesus and His Kingdom in Heaven. I am mourning, but I am comforted. I will pick my head up and have the courage to divert conversations from playful superficiality to productive, vulnerable processing. It’s 200,000 people; the least we could do is process it.