July is the cruelest month. That’s not exactly what T.S. Eliot said, but around this time in July, every year the flashbacks begin and the “what was I doing X years ago” starts to kick in. “This time 11 years ago I had a brother”—I can say that part the first 11 days, “this time 11 years ago he was gone.” That part comes on July 11.
Except that this year has been exponentially worse. I spent the week before my brother died watching him suffer on a ventilator, watching his oxygen saturation numbers cruelly rise only to fall again, and this year the flashbacks have been from March until July. My brother did not die of Covid obviously, but the similarities that people on the front lines report are horrifying, and my heart breaks for the lives lost and the families torn apart. Yet this national tragedy often gets reduced to numbers, statistics, and percentages, and though I don’t think it’s humanly possible to grasp the scope of suffering, these numbers bring back for me a fraction of what they represent. Instead of a number, I see desperate gasping. Instead of a number, I hear that macabre mechanical click as a machine forces air into human lungs that refuse to work. Instead of a number, I feel the confusion of witnessing pain so great I momentarily prayed for God to put an end to the suffering and then hated myself for it immediately afterwards.
Reliving through the worst day of my life would be hard enough in a country where people generally agreed this was a problem and decided to work together to put an end to it. Yet somehow, mind boggling as it is, this issue has become political. I don’t want to get into the politics of it, but speaking from the heart I will say only this: people who do not take this seriously have no idea how high the stakes are. They have not watched a loved one suffer on a ventilator. They have not experienced a Christmas morning with a fifth of the family gapingly vacant. I fear they will not know the fire they are playing with until they themselves are burned.