Hail to the victorious dead: A COVID-19 elegy

This is, strangely, a time of war, as consequential as WWII, and our choices will have impacts for generations to come.

Like all wars, this one is full of fallen heroes — martyrs. They are worthy of remembrance and a life of commitment to honor and live up to all they gave.

I say war but it is not like any conventional, unconventional, symmetrical or asymmetrical conflict.

There is a villain, an aggressor, an antagonist, if a virus can be such. But really, the virus is just a contagion brought into this world by our choices as a people. By our disregard for the sanctity of the natural world that gives us life. By the disregard of our political and economic system for basic human needs such as … housing. Health care. Education.

This society of ours, that cannot house all its citizens, that depends on the impoverishment of a major segment of the global population to enrich itself, that rations health care rather than invests wholeheartedly in it, that fails to provide sufficient and healthy food, and produces through its mass media a mental environment that cultivates division, sadism and acquisitiveness, that heedlessly devours the blessings of this Earth …

This is what we are fighting. The virus is just a symptom. In confronting the symptom we are confronted with life-altering choices about our priorities for our society and our selves.

This war, this conflict, is with ourselves — our whole people, our whole society, our entire set of priorities for the lives we are given.

To win this war, we have to conquer our worst impulses, our worst instincts, our worst behaviors as homo sapiens on Planet Earth.

I have been full of sorrow and fear, these past weeks, because of this awful affliction that is sweeping the blue-green globe that we live upon, that has borne us up through the eons, through its evolutionary alchemy, to our astonishingly exalted yet so profoundly fallen state.

But today I feel some hint, if not of gladness, then of hope, and confidence, that we can overcome this enemy, who is after all only our selves.

I am full of devotion to the future that is ours to make real, thanks to the heroic efforts and sacrifices of those who’ve gone before us, who’ve made real all the beauty and hope and truth in our lives.

Because, yes, there are heroes in this strange time of war, and martyrs, and the victorious dead should be remembered as such.

I salute the great heroes of our age who have been taken from us. For me, I feel the loss of great artists and arts advocates, such as John Prine, and Hal Willner, and Ellis Marsalis.

Closer to home is the bitterness and sorrow of a dear friend from childhood who lost his father, a great man who brought love and laughter and life into this word, and who was taken, taken, who is gone now.

I think of the other heroes and martyrs. The medical workers, from orderlies to EMTs to nurses to doctors. The grocers and service workers. Who put it all on the line to heal us, keep us fed, keep the wires alive with electricity and the web of communication humming and buzzing and alive.

I think of those voters of Wisconsin whose lives will be lost due to their exposure to the viral symptoms of a petty, unjust, pathetically cruel political culture.

I think of the black families in America whose losses to the virus _right now_ are exacerbated by a system that has neglected and rejected their needs and lives for countless generations, for the entire span of this country’s history.

I will not let their sacrifices be in vain. I will remember and fight for their honor, if it is given to me to do so. I will do my best to bear their gifts into the future, or open the way, in some small manner, if I can, if it is for me to do.

The virus is just a symptom. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It has never been so plain, and this moment, this lesson, must never be lost, forgotten or distorted.

Those who have been taken from us have given us too much, shown us too much — of the better world that awaits, that they brought into being merely by the fact of their blesséd lives — for us to turn back now.

Their sacrifices will not be in vain.

Our better natures will yet triumph.

Hail to the victorious dead.

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