Living in a developed county in the late Post-Industrial period, it is easy to forget how good we have life. In the past half-century, we have attained enormous material wealth and comfort available to most of the population. This wealth is concentrated in America, which commands 30% of the world’s total wealth. Even the poor among us, living in tenements and trailer parks, lives more comfortably than millions, perhaps billions, in the Third World and by historical standards. But most of us would agree that 2020 has been a bad year. While not as lethal as previous pestilences, the 1.2 million deaths, a fifth of which have occurred in the United States, weighs heavily on those of us who are sane. The situation is made much worse by our national leadership. Instead of addressing the threat directly and urging a united America to embrace masks and isolation when necessary, Trump chose to pin his reelection hopes on polarizing the nation further by politicizing a medical emergency and ignoring it’s threat. For seven months, as hospitals overflow and death counts rise, the lies and denial from the White House have gotten more loud. Already burdened by the incessant news of infection and death, this demagoguery besmirches the ears and minds of any truly human person who hears it.
Unlike 16 million other Americans, my wife and I are lucky enough to be untouched financially by 2020’s disasters. Despite this, we feel the burden of the rising misery and deaths of others. We feel the burden of the diligent, daily care we that apply to maintain strong immune systems and isolation from possible pathogens. This unremitting, growing stress wears.
Late last week, we awoke to find a dozen law enforcement vehicles and a large command center truck in front of the home of neighbors and friends just around the corner from us. The fleet of vehicles was there all day. We were initially told that the head of the household, a retired Navy Captain, had shot his wife and turned the gun on himself. Later, Denise found via the news that he was in jail, arrested for the murder of his wife. We have known them for over a decade. I liked and respected the Captain. We honored him at retirement and attended their New Year’s Eve celebrations for years. They were both gracious hosts and warm, friendly people. In recent years, health issues began to challenge the Captain, first a stroke, then the need for a pacemaker. I could see his resilience declining remarkably. While running, Denise and I would often see his wife walking the neighborhood with another friend. The Captain seemed to become withdrawn to his home.
I think of the arc of life that we all traverse in time. Those millions of moments spent in the company of one other person quickly recede into time, only to be extinguished when the lives of the participants cease. They are irretrievable except through dwindling memory. By their immediacy and quantity, we tend be unaware of their occurrence and uniqueness. Old age is frequently composed of repeatedly re-living the past moments, as if we could make them happen again instead of being engaged in the present ones. I feel for the Captain’s wife and her lost memories. I feel for the Captain, having retired with the pomp and circumstance befitting his achievements only to be brought low by life’s unending challenges. I feel for those who struggle, whose numbers have grown so much in 2020.
Postscript: The Captain was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was in his early 60's at time of conviction.