Today, Washington’s mask mandate ends. This week will also mark two years since the global COVID-19 pandemic really hit home. It’s a good time to examine what the heck just happened to us. More importantly, we should look at where we go from here as we look at post-pandemic life.
First, as we celebrate that infections are dropping and the end of the pandemic just might be upon us, let’s take a moment to remember the fallen.
The Economist, a highly respected global news magazine based in Britain, has counted “excess deaths” since the start of the pandemic. By examining the number of people who died of any cause and comparing that number with the historical baseline of deaths in previous years, they estimate that the true COVID-19 death toll across the planet was probably at least three times the official estimate. (That includes people who died of other causes because of disruptions to the health care system.)
Officially, COVID-19 killed 6 million people globally, but The Economist estimates that the actual death toll is probably 20 million people.
In the United States, 965,464 people have officially died of COVID-19. The Economist estimates the actual number killed is probably 1.1 to 1.3 million.
In Lewis County, we’ve lost 224 people (including three more deaths last week) since the death tally began two years ago this week. For comparison, that’s a bit less than half the population of Onalaska.
On top of the loss of human life, we’ve seen human connections degraded and a loss of, as the old hymn calls them, “the ties that bind” us together.
We’ve had protests, fear, angry confrontations and blame. The worst, to me, is that so many of us have decided to cut ourselves off from longtime friends, neighbors and associates, perhaps because of what we’ve seen them say or share on social media, or because of political considerations.
I know people had their reasons and the feelings were real, but as we emerge from the infection this virus created in our bodies and our body politic, I’d urge people to reconsider.
I think of the quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Or, as we sing each New Year’s day, “should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”
Maybe we should declare this a new year of sorts. Out with the old and in with the new. The law given in the Old Testament speaks of a time of jubilee, when debts are forgiven and people can make a new start.
What if we let our emergence from the pandemic be a time of jubilee?
Let’s give old friendships a new try, getting together in person rather than interacting by social media posts.
And let’s decide what kind of new life we want to live. Shall we jump back into the old busy-ness, the old runaround?
That’s a big question in our household. We have three kids participating in four different sports. (I know, the math is questionable on that, but I’ve double-checked it and somehow it’s true.)
Does that leave time for dinners together, for time together reading on the couch, for songs around the piano, for a pause that refreshes?
Perhaps this return to “normalcy” gives us a chance to re-adjust the volume a little, turning down a few activities we thought were important and turning up the things that we found to be life-sustaining over the past two years.
Maybe it’s keeping up with the garden. Maybe we cut back on the Amazon purchases and get to know our local stores again.
Maybe it’s wearing masks when we or someone in our house is feeling a little under the weather, to keep from spreading it when we breathe. It doesn’t take a mandate to show common courtesy.
The sun is shining today and after two years, real life seems to be coming back. Let’s make it the life we choose, and let’s do it together.
Brian Mittge is thankful for life, health and good friends. He’s looking forward to seeing them again. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.