How do you express what it feels like at the dawn of the year 2022 in America, which seems to be a dying society, without counseling fatalism and despair? Those of us who refuse to succumb to the madness must reaffirm our devotion to life, in defiance of the morbid symptoms all around us.
There is no hiding from the plain, grim truth that death is everywhere in America these days, though plenty of Americans are still trying their damnedest to deceive themselves and everyone around them. Most obviously, COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death (or number two, or three, depending on the week), and soon we will have to mark one million Americans dead from the pandemic illness, which experts tell us is well on the way to becoming an “endemic” illness. The CDC is expecting the weekly death rate from the disease to possibly exceed seventeen thousand around January 8. I looked up the population of the suburb where I grew up: it’s been stable at just under fifty thousand for decades. At fifteen thousand lives lost each week, everyone in my hometown would be gone in less than three weeks. But pick your own metric.
What is the reaction of Americans on both sides of the alleged political divide to this terrifying news? “Party hearty,” that’s the reaction. And make no mistake: this is not life-affirming celebration we’re talking about, this is The Masque of the Red Death. That stupid ball is gonna drop in Times Square in a few hours, no matter how many people get sick and die just from crowding into the place. Planes are jammed full of revelers (when the airlines can scrape together a healthy crew to fly them). “Liberals” are openly celebrating the agonizing deaths of deluded and self-deluded, mask and vaccine refusing “conservatives,” hoping this will decrease the number of right-wing voters enough to swing future elections. “Conservatives” are arming themselves with military-grade weaponry for their expected armed confrontations with “liberals” and begging their leaders for permission to open fire. The once-and-future dictator and all his minions are openly plotting to end democracy and install a tyranny, and an air of inevitability is gathering around their increasingly menacing words and deeds.
I crawl out of bed in the morning, and start compulsively “doomscrolling” through the news. A woman has been arrested for assaulting a fellow airline passenger in a “fight over masking” replete with racial and sexual insults. The video (of course there is video) shows that both passengers were White. Another shooting spree in another American city has taken five lives. The “motive” is unknown, “thoughts and prayers” are requested. Those massacres are fading into background noise, seemingly as unstoppable as the globally heated winter weather: 67 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 20 Celsius) in Alaska, previously unheard-of December tornadoes flattening Kentucky, wildfires leaving entire regions of the country smelling like ashtrays if they aren’t actually burned to ashes. But, we are cautioned not to be negative, lest we depress Christmas consumer spending, which has gone from being the most important factor in national economic growth to, apparently, the economy’s entire reason for being.
To survive, I lean on the Jewish religious tradition I was raised in. The “Old Testament” prophets are notorious for their thunder against sin, but by longstanding tradition, it is forbidden to end the weekly Sabbath reading in synagogue from that part of the Bible on a note of condemnation and warning; “consolation” is counseled, instead. All I have for myself at this bleak moment in history, and for you my readers, is this: A century before Jesus’ time, the sage Rabbi Hillel the Great counseled, “In a place where there are no men, try to be a man.” Or as we might phrase it today: In a place filled with inhumanity, hold your head up with courage and be humane to yourself and others. In a time when so many of our fellows have lost their minds and hearts and are in effect shouting ¡Viva la Muerte! like so many Spanish fascists, reject the wicked celebration of death and every false consolation. Rejoice in life, and resolve to fight for it in the year ahead.
Happy New Year.