The Weight of 200,000 Souls
In the US, over 200,000 people have died from the Covid-19 virus, but how can we visualize this pandemic?
In just over six months, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people in the US. That is more than the American casualties in: World War One, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Stop and think about the frightening scale of this ongoing covid pandemic.
I had an awful dream the other night of a highway lined with graves. Since then, I have been trying to visualize the size of covid pandemic’s enormous death toll. In the US a standard grave is 8 feet long. If the graves of America’s Covid-19 victims were placed end to end, the graves would stretch more than 1,6000,000 feet or 303 miles. That is the distance from Washington DC to New Haven Connecticut or Youngstown Ohio. The average casket in the US is 84 inches long by 28 inches wide. A casket is fourteen square feet in area. And horribly, 200,000 caskets would cover 2,800,000 square feet in area. To put that number into perspective, the White House is 54,900 square feet in area, and so you would need five White Houses to hold the number of coffins necessary for 200,000 funerals. But what is the emotional weight of 200,000 souls?
The first official US death from the covid-19 virus happened at the end of February. The covid virus however had been spreading in the US and around the world before that. Now, seven months later, the official number of deaths attributable to the covid-19 virus has reached 200,000. This covid pandemic death toll is without a doubt inaccurate, but it is certain that at least two hundred thousand people have died from the pandemic. As a way to honor those who have died, I have been marking the numbers each day and saying a prayer every night for those who died since March.
On March 23, 2020 I began to keep my own record of the covid virus numbers. This first page of my record was simply to try and understand the infection rate and death toll of the pandemic. Looking at that first scrap of paper now I see poignantly how I marked the first day the daily death toll reached 100. As the days rolled on, the overall death toll rose above 1000, and then above 10,000, the numbers began to show just how frightening this pandemic had become. My wife and I tried to reorganize our lives in order to prepare for self-quarantine. We had been following the news from China since January and knew the covid-19 pandemic was going to be terrible. We had no way of knowing then just how terrible it would become in the US.
For 180 Days — nearly half a year: Several times each day, I have marked the numbers down and said a prayer every night for those who had passed away that day. The growing, monumental scale of death sent a chill up my spine. The daily marking down of the numbers became a meditation on mortality. But it became apparent that the numbers in the US were being manipulated to show lower rates. There was an insane push-back against preparation and basic public hygiene. It is maddening that some people still do not give a damn about their fellow citizens and refuse to perform even the simple public service of wearing a mask. The numbers continue to rise higher and higher. And I dutifully continue recording the numbers and saying a prayer day-after-day. I’ve filled two dozen sheets now — front and back. But the terrifying toll of the pandemic is about so much more than a tally. Every single case is a life destroyed, a memorial held, and countless people left grieving.
The other day, I was looking through some photos and found my high school yearbook photo of my best friend Greg. I vividly remember the first time I talked to him in 2nd grade, and we made each other laugh. That year we became best friends as easily as a leaf falling from a tree. We were blood brothers and so much more. Our lives were interconnected to the end. Greg served in the Navy, and I went to college. One awful day he told me he had leukemia. He was a champion swimmer in the past, but he was confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed from the waist down. Greg struggled mightily for months but succumbed to the disease in the end. The nurse told me I could not see him because the disease had devastated his body. I wrote a note, and the nurse promised to read it to him. Decades later, I still feel the weight of his death in my heart. These days, as the pandemic death toll continues to rise worldwide, I continue to ponder the emotional weight of 200,000 departed souls. I would have to say, the Earth itself could not balance the scales for even one unique person gone but never forgotten. We all must do what we can to remember them and to stop this wretched pandemic. Please stay safe and take care of each other.