Last night we ended up on the couch
trying to remember
all of the friends who had died so far,
and this morning I wrote them down
in alphabetical order
on the flip side of a shopping list
you had left on the kitchen table.
So many of them had been swept away
as if by a hand from the sky,
it was good to recall them,
I was thinking
under the cold lights of a supermarket
as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel
up and down the long strident aisles.
I was on the lookout for blueberries,
English muffins, linguini, heavy cream,
light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon,
and whatever else was on the list,
which I managed to keep grocery side up,
until I had passed through the electric doors,
where I stopped to realize,
as I turned the list over,
that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea
as well as the bananas and the bread.
It was pouring by then,
spilling, as they say in Ireland,
people splashing across the lot to their cars.
And that is when I set out,
walking slowly and precisely,
a soaking-wet man
bearing bags of groceries,
walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.
I felt I owed this to Terry,
who was such a strong painter,
for almost forgetting him
and to all the others who had formed
a circle around him on the screen in my head.
I was walking more slowly now
in the presence of the compassion
the dead were extending to a comrade,
plus I was in no hurry to return
to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you
all about Terry and the bananas and the bread.
~Billy Collins “Downpour”
Since the count began, the list of those who have died expands every day in media headlines and increases by the hour on websites dedicated to COVID tracking – –
–only there are no names. We don’t list the names of those who have been lost.
Maybe if there were names of over one million people around the globe that the virus has hastened to take from us, somehow it would matter more. Maybe if we witnessed the suffering that accompanied each case, we would understand this is more than “just like the flu.”
I’ve seen the flu kill the young and healthy, so hearing that comparison doesn’t comfort me or cause me to wave this off as something that will pass as soon as the election results are tallied. Even some health care workers are remarkably nonchalant and dismissive of the virus. I simply don’t understand: after decades of pandemic planning in my work as a medical director/health officer, this is the situation we all dreaded could happen, but knew we needed to be ready for.
I don’t want to see anyone else added to a list that is far longer than it ever should have been and growing by the day. Yet the tallies rise because our very own behavior, modeled from the very top of government, is responsible.
Will anyone someday build a monument listing the names of those who died in this pandemic? No, because there is nothing noble about dying of a virus and the list would be far too long. There is nothing noble about failing to protect others in the name of protecting my own individual liberty and civil rights.
So I wear the mask and so should you. It just might keep me or you or someone we love from being just another number on the list.