By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
500,000. 500 groups of 1,000. 100,000 groups of 5. Half a million people.
Numbers above 1,000 have always been hard for me to give quantifying meaning to. I can envision 10 piles of 100 pennies and realistically understand the individual weight of each of those 1,000 pennies. However, when numbers grow larger, the difficulty in comprehending them seems to lead to a loss of substantive meaning.
I don’t want to lose sight of how many people 500,000 is though, because over 500,000 people have now died in the United States due to COVID-19. And these are just the people we know of. Surely, there are more COVID-related deaths that have been unaccounted for due to reasons including legal status, misreporting, and unknown medical factors.
As I think about the 500,000 lives lost and those they left behind, I also am drawn to think about all that has changed over the past year in the lives of those lucky to be alive through it. I think about how my mentality has changed in the day-to-day mundanities of life; meeting a friend for lunch isn’t something I can do at the drop of the hat anymore, and at best, typically takes place over FaceTime instead of face-to-face. Going to work requires taking extra precautions to make sure both the employees and customers are following proper health protocols, and the stress of that responsibility is significant in itself.
Dropping by the grocery store is even more frustrating than usual, because instead of just having to weave through slow-walking shoppers, now I walk up and down the aisles just to see blatantly disrespectful individuals either not wearing a mask or wearing it incorrectly. It actually upsets me! More, no longer do I often just stop into a store to leisurely thrift shop for the sake of it because it’s a risk in and of itself. I think twice before I use a public pen. I cringe when I hear someone cough. I haven’t dined in a restaurant since my sister’s birthday last March.
I see posts circulated on social media that are intended to directly address people like me who go about their lives in the ways I have described above. One I saw yesterday essentially said that this past year has been a year that people like me will never get back; because we chose to live in relative isolation and fear, avoiding the things and the people we love because of a risk no greater than those of the everyday, somehow we have given in to a kind of control mechanism. The entirety of the post was centered around how the circumstances of the pandemic affect one’s self: your own freedoms, your own opportunities, and your own fun. More than anything, that’s what bothered me most about the post, because that’s the root of what has eaten away at me over the course of the last year: the absolute selfishness of people.
Due to the nature of this virus, the more than 500,000 people who lost their lives to COVID-19 in the past year contracted the virus, and as we know, we all contract this virus from someone else. I believe we are all responsible for one another’s well-being, and it absolutely infuriates me to read about, hear about, and bear witness to irresponsible and selfish decisions putting others at risk in the name of freedom and fun. If wearing a mask and not going to that party could save someone’s life, wouldn’t you make that sacrifice? Why can’t we look at it that way? Or do we, and do some just not care?
I’ll be the first to admit it: we’ve been in this lifestyle for almost a year now, and the pandemic fatigue is hitting hard. I am so ready to see family members near and far, to get in the car and go on a weekend trip just for fun, and to have long conversations over coffee with a friend. I look forward to the day we don’t have to look at people’s eyes to discern how they’re feeling. But I’ve adapted, and I’m not giving in. Wearing a mask, even at work for hours on end, really isn’t so bad. Going on walks with my best friend instead of going to the movies has become a highlight of my each of my days. Treating myself to take-out in the park is equally as indulgent as dining in. I miss all the latter things, but they’ll come in time.
When faced with challenges, humanity has always adapted and found a way to overcome them. The scientific feat of the vaccine is one of those miraculous solutions, and eventually, we will all be fortunate enough to benefit from it. Like everyone else, those few weeks of March when we thought this would all be over by May were fleeting, and we indeed were introduced to a new normal that has lasted far beyond what any one of us saw coming.
But those 500,000+ people who have lost their lives to COVID-19 offer a poignant and grim reminder of how seriously we must take this virus as a responsibility to one another. We must each make the small sacrifices for the greater good, remain steadfast in our thoughtfulness for one another, and ultimately, remember that in everything, we are a part of the whole.