That number is roughly the population of Atlanta, or a good swath of Miami-Dade County, where I live. Half a million. More than all the American soldiers lost in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. And that is the number of lives lost to a virus in less than one year since the first death was recorded in the U.S., on February 29, 2020.
It has changed our world forever. We all know someone who either had it and survived, or we all know someone who lost someone from it. We have changed our everyday habits: we stay home, we eat in, we find new ways of shopping, we learn to work, parent and adult from home, and we cope with depression and frustration in perhaps constructive ways — one hopes — and adjust, adapt, and try to go on.
To those of us who were — and remain — touched or hit by the loss of a loved one, we find ways to cope with the inevitable grief. In my case, I wrote: 25 plays since last February. For others that I know, it was everything from binge-watching TV, making bread, rediscovering old books and crafts, and making connections and amends where necessary with those we lost touch with or moved away from. The fact that it happened in a presidential election year exacerbated some differences — stress and loss makes it hard to reconcile even without social distancing and quarantining — but it also gave us time for action and determination to, as the Serenity Prayer says, change the things we can.
There is hope. The infection rate is going down, vaccinations are increasing, competency is replacing bullying and bloviation, and human nature — the good side — looks for an end, however distant. We know our lives are vulnerable; a pandemic is not anomaly but a Darwinian force of nature. We have seen them before and we will see them again. It is up to us to deal with it as we can, and comparing this to a previous pandemic in living memory, we have made amazing strides in medicine and science, with or without the hindrance of political ambition and quackery.
The New York Times posted a graphic on their front page with a tiny dot (.) representing each life lost. It started small, but by the time it got to the end, the page was nothing but ink. One of those dots was my dad. Two weeks ago I got my first dose of the vaccine. I want to think that if Dad couldn’t get it, I could in his name and make it through this for him and all the other people I know and care about. I think that’s what we all should do, and hope and work to make sure that we don’t lose another 500,000 and still have a life worth living and remembering.