Discover more from Letters from an American
May 23, 2020
The cover of Sunday’s New York Times was released tonight. It lists the names of 1000 Americans, dead of Covid-19. One thousand is just one percent of the number of those officially counted as dead of coronavirus we will likely hit this Memorial Day weekend.
It is “AN INCALCULABLE LOSS,” the headline reads. “They Were Not Simply Names on a List, They Were Us.”
The editors introduce the list by saying: “Numbers alone cannot possibly measure the impact of the coronavirus on America, whether it is the number of patients treated, jobs interrupted or lives cut short. As the country nears a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths attributed to the virus, The New York Times scoured more than 1,000 obituaries and death notices honoring those who died. None were mere numbers.”
Each name comes with a characteristic of the person lost: “Stanley L. Morse, 88, Stark County, Ohio, trombonist who once turned down an offer to join Duke Ellington’s orchestra;” “Jose Diaz-Ayala, 38, Palm Beach, Fla., served with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for 14 years;” “Louvenia Henderson, 44, Tonawanda, N.Y., proud single mother of three;” “Ruth Skapinok, 85, Roseville, Calif., backyard birds were known to eat from her hand.” “Richard Passman, 94, Silver Spring, Md., rocket engineer in the early days of supersonic flight.”
This dramatic cover does more than mark a stark number. It rejects the toxic individualism embraced by a certain portion of Trump’s base. These people refuse to isolate or wear masks either because they believe the virus isn’t actually dangerous or because they insist that public health rules infringe on their liberty or because, so far, the people most likely to die have been elderly or people of color and they are not in those categories.
“It’s a personal choice,” one man told a reporter as a wealthy suburb of Atlanta reopened. “If you want to stay home, stay home. If you want to go out, you can go out. I’m not in the older population. If I was to get it now, I’ve got a 90 percent chance of getting cured. Also, I don’t know anybody who’s got it.” Another man agreed: “When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics—I’m not worried.”
The New York Times cover rejects this selfishness and reminds us that we are all in this together… or should be. At least, this has been our principle in our better moments, and some people have taken it quite seriously indeed. On Monday, Memorial Day, we will honor those young men and women who did not believe that being an American meant refusing to inconvenience themselves to help their neighbors.
Instead, to protect their fellow Americans, they laid down their lives.