Does the earth itself despair, when the strain is too much? When the tears fall down like rain upon screens shorting-out from the warm salty deluge that makes its way onto hardened cement floors of basements or the solid stone of bunkers tucked away in terror – fear and loneliness and loss, seasoned with betrayal at last moments missed and the emptiness void of closure that might never be filled; running then into the sewers and out to the sea to join the nameless un-mourned dead?
Does mother nature grieve as she receives to her bosom the assembly line of ordered orifices laid out into infinity, of fresh-dug earth, into which go the quick-dried coffins unevenly assembled, watched over only by the cardboard countenances of the anonymous plastic gravediggers proffering their trade? I think she must. But do we?
We can weep for one tragic death. A car accident that takes a child from her mother; a disease striking down singer or surgeon in their prime – robbing us of them, and them of that which fills our spirit, giving breath not just life. We can grieve for a boy as a tear splashes upon the loose-packed earth under which lies his love, the one he knew was once and for eternity. Those things we understand, for they burst with overflowing of humanity and our condition. But these numbers, the endless deluge of tales of hardship and loss, friend and stranger alike — the daily ticker-march of death in ones and twos and tens and hundreds — 10,000 a day, more now. What do we do about numbers like these? How does the callous not grow ever thicker with each article, each report, each anxious missed phone-call or sleepless night – until our emotions are so overgrown with exhaustion and with use that they no longer register touch?
And it’s more than the death, as if there is more than death. The aged, robbed of their last years as they stare through the saran-wrapped windows to a world that quietly, quickly slips away – at least for them; grasping at each last minute, breathing deeply of their final breaths as their nostrils fill only with the stench of bleach where the delicate aroma of rosebuds before flitted upon the delicate caress of the warming spring breeze. Last birthdays lived alone; the pale glow of a phone or pad giving off an unsatisfying unhealthy light where there used to be a candle that glowed. Dreams, cut short – lives, interrupted before they began – the Peace Corps worker abandoning the cradled vision of the African village to look down with a shrug as the debt-pile grows and the want-ad column shrinks, and sighs deeply and dejectedly — this is the harsh reality of now, best not to rage. For how can we rage at a thing such as has befallen us? The Olympians, their one chance – waiting breath baited, will they compete this year…? Or will this season pass them by; returning them to the high-school gymnasium with only laments of what might have been to deliver with a bitter grimace to the next generation of champions. Businesses, shuttered – vacant lidless eyes staring down upon the main street of a town that no longer boasts a chocolatery, a wine bar, a specialty soap shop. Only a fleet of canned-good delivery trucks; anonymous beetle men, shielded in plastic, plying their perilous business – essential, in a world where all else has become superfluous.
How do we mourn for all this? And how do we mourn the 3,000,000 dead? How do we not let the sheer size of the number numb us to the reality that each of them was, like us, a living-fighting-kicking-breathing person to the end. Do we light a candle for them? Such a blaze would be perilous. Do we dare shed a tear for the empty places at the dinner table – and risk the torrent, a great salty river flowing to the sea, and the devastation that would ensue? Do we all scream out loud at the powerlessness of our loss, and risk the shaking of the earth? Or perhaps instead we simply say a silent prayer, for each life…? Isn’t there too much silence these days – long after the Italian canticos to their healthcare workers gave way to the unsung hum-drum of shattered illusions and the shelving of once-bright dreams? Yes, would that we could mourn loudly – that is what this morbid milestone moment demands.
As for me, I choose to listen to a song, over and over like I often do when I am melancholy; and like the ancient preachers did in plagues of old, consecrating the waters when the cemeteries filled to bursting – I channel the mariners’ in a simple prayer for the departed:
“Unto Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the deep; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the sea shall give up her dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”