In the early days of the coronavirus, during the Lunar New Year Celebration, I asked my cousin who had worked in Asia years ago if Americans would pay attention to what was happening. The coronavirus family include the common cold, but this virus had never been seen before. Despite reports that 41 people died and 1,400 were infected, my cousin was not optimistic that Americans were paying attention, at least not yet. Early information reported that only a quarter of cases were severe and the dead were mostly elderly people with pre-existing conditions.But the muted reaction in the USA is changing, as it did in China.
Despite the downplay of the severity,pharmacies in Wuhan began to run out of supplies and officials urged people to avoid crowds. Soon the city was on lockdown with no public transportation in or out of the city. McDonald’s and Starbucks closed and the US, France and Russia tried to evacuate their nationals. Disney closed its resort in Shanghai and tourism began to shut down. A friend reported that all of her consulting work in China had been cancelled through May.
When an anniversary falls on Yom Kippur, the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, thoughts of living and dying take on cosmic proportions. Fortunately, it’s rare for the two milestones to collide given the differences between the secular and Jewish calendars. Both are celebrations, but Yom Kippur which ends the New Year’s ten Days of Awe, is a sacred time when the celebration of life is combined with contemplation its finite nature. This year, I have a double dose of introspection and my mind sought the path separating living from dying and wandered from wonder and gratitude to mourning and humility.
Truth is, when faced with touchy issues, even the well-spoken can find themselves tongue-tied with verbal paralysis and no idea what to say, let alone do. I received this email a while back.
“Terry, in two weeks I will visit a lifelong friend who has spreading colon cancer. Two years ago, I visited another lifelong friend who was suffering from lung cancer. It was on New Year’s Day. I searched for the right words, but they did not come. I was embarrassed when I caught myself avoiding eye contact. He had to sense my discomfort. Instinctively I knew that this would probably be last time I’d see him alive. Two months later he died. Long story short, I struggled for the right words then and I will struggle for the right words and the right behaviors in two weeks. What do I say and what do I do?”
My hunch is that I’m not the only one who can identify with this conundrum. And because I didn’t have all the answers, I shared it with my global network and asked for their advice. Here’s what they suggested:
Today the word Mortality is being examined in bold letters regarding for our species and in smaller plain print by individuals in this convergent moment. Scientists and religious fundamentalist have been busy writing an obituary for our species in upper case letters. As the Baby Boomers globally turn into Elder Boomers, they again challenge conventional routines and rituals. Likewise younger people put on the zombie costumes of the walking dead and extend the discussion of mortality across space and generations.
A week into 2016 and it was David Bowie. Then it was Natalie Cole. And it seems that every year a number of news sources will publish a list consisting of “those we lost last year.” Now like so many others, I got an uneasy reminder of the reality of death in 2015 with the loss of my brother and, before that, vicariously through related stories of others.