Staying connected to the humanity of these times by surrounding yourself in the presence and power of those we have lost.

A portion of the front page of the New York Times — Sunday, May 24, 2020/Credit: The New York Times

The front page of The New York Times this past Sunday did not feature any articles, photographs, or headlines. Instead, it listed names of 1,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19 since March 1, 2020. The total recorded number of Covid-19 related deaths in the U.S. will likely exceed 100,000 by the time you read this.

The page was a stark reminder of the current condition of our society. “Heartbroken,” “angry,” and “devastated” were typical sentiments of readers. “We knew we were approaching this milestone,” Simone Landon, Assistant Graphics Editor at the Times, said in an interview. “Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon and her team culled through obituaries in hundreds of newspapers throughout the U.S. to gather stories of 1,000 who died of Covid-19. They went one step further to provide a note about each person. For example:

  • Albert Petrocelli, 73, fire chief who answered the call on 9/11;
  • Maria Garcia-Rodelo, 52, would walk her children to school every morning;
  • Raymond Copeland, 46, a sanitation worker living his fullest days;
  • Kimarlee Nguyen, 33, writer who inspired her high school students;
  • Dante Dennis Flagello, 64, his greatest accomplishment was his relationship with his wife; and
  • Margaret Laughlin, 91, had a mystic’s sense of wonder and oneness.

This page raised many questions for me and compelled me to wonder what others were feeling as they read about the lives of these fellow human beings.

Take a minute and read one column of names in the photo above. If you’re like me, you might discover that, even though you will never meet any of these folks, you feel like you know them. They remind you of a relative, a neighbor, a school mate, colleague, or a mentor. You might have a sense of the sadness their loved ones are carrying in the wake of these losses. In reading their names, the gravity of these times becomes more…human. These people are not separate from us. They are us.

Getting caught up in the statistics, sound bytes, and bickering arising from these times will not nurture us. So, the question sits there, blinking at you, asking you what you can do to go the distance in the midst in the face of this crisis. Here are two things you might consider –

1) Stay connected to the humanity of these times by honoring and sharing the stories of the people who have died.
If you are feeling a sense of hopelessness, loss, or downright fatigue, take ten-minutes each day to honor someone who died from this virus. Read about them, and talk about or share their story with your family, friends, colleagues, and social networks. If your heart is open, the stories will guide, inspire, and buoy you through the day.

I remember how this worked during the height of the AIDS epidemic. One thing that kept those on the frontlines sustained was honoring the memories of those we lost. Whether we sewed a panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, laid a stone at the AIDS Memorial Grove, or lit a candle at the makeshift memorial on the corner of 18th and Castro, we refused to let the memory of our friends fade away. These acts provided the essential fuel to confront the challenges ahead. Instead of wallowing in the sorrow of the absence of our friends, we were buoyed by the presence of their stories.

Nowadays, you don’t have to sew a quilt or leave your home to hear stories of those we’ve lost to this pandemic. Just click on the following resources -

  • We Remember” a site sponsored by CNN featuring 60-second video tributes from loved ones. Yesterday, I heard about Gerard Bartuch, a WWII veteran with a contagious laugh, who loved all things Disney. “If God had a mold for what human beings should be, he based it off of Gerard Bartuch,” said his grandson, Anthony.
  • Those We Lost, a New York Times feature, where I learned about Marie Pino, who was mourning the loss of her son, Marcus, of Covid-19. Ms. Pino, who taught elementary school for much of her more than 40-year career, would talk to her students both in English and in Diné Bizaad, their native Navajo language. She joined Marcus three weeks after he passed.

You can also check your local paper to learn about people from your community who have passed on.

2) Keep this pandemic front and center by showing up, speaking up, and acting up on behalf of those who cannot.
On October 11, 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed on the National Mall for the first time. It comprised 1,920 panels (each panel is 3’ x 6’, roughly the size of a coffin), and covered the area equivalent in size to a football field. The Quilt did not just provide a means for people to mourn and heal. It was, and still is, a powerful weapon of political and social will. The quilt has grown to more than 50,000 panels, honoring over 100,000 people. Sections of the quilt continue to be toured and displayed around the country, raising awareness, education, funds, and compassion for People with HIV/AIDS

The AIDS Memorial Quilt in Washington DC, 1996/credit: The New York TImes

It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic will not simply disappear one day as the president has claimed. Its impact will be with us for years to come. Therefore, it is important continue keeping the health crisis as our primary social and political priority. Since the president’s agenda is moving in a different direction, it is up to us to step up, speak up, and act up in memory of those who died, and on behalf of the sick, the vulnerable, and our frontline workers.

One simple thing you can do is inundate our political leaders with faces of the pandemic. The AIDS quilt humanized a disease that was rooted in stigma and fear, by keeping the memory of those who died right in the faces of people who are tired, apathetic, or adamantly opposed. The same fear tactics are being used by the current administration to demonize people with Covid-19, fostering the same attitudes of othering, apathy, and hate. We can use the power of story and symbol to keep the pandemic in their faces. Through technology, we can create a virtual quilt, and blanket our leaders with a human touch.

Remember the stories you are reading and sharing with your personal networks? Include the following people on your list –

You can also support Institutions that are doing the right thing, and boycott institutions that are not. Use your wallet to make a statement for compassion and care in the midst of the pandemic by supporting the following –

  • Polly Barks provides a list of 25 ethical alternatives to Amazon, including general merchandise, food, clothing, home goods and cleaning supplies, books, and personal care products.
  • For your home improvement and gardening supplies, choose Lowe’s instead of Home Depot. Lowe’s was quick to provide decreased store times, along with in $80 million in bonuses and increased time off for their employees.
  • Farmer’s Markets are starting to open, with prescribed social distancing regulations. Please support your local farmers.

In order for us to thrive, both in the midst of this pandemic and when it has settled, we must support and engage each other with our hearts and our actions. The key is to remain connected to the humanity of these times by surrounding ourselves in the presence and power of those who have passed on. Their legacy will guide us through these stormy seas, and ensure that we’re gonna be alright thorough the journey.

STAND UP, SPEAK UP, STEP UP

1) Take 10-minutes each day to log into We Remember”, Those We Lost,, and your local paper to access tributes of those who lost their lives to Covid-19. Read their stories, and share them with your network, family, friends, and colleagues.

2) Also share these stories with The President, Senator Mitch McConnell , Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, your governor, US Senator, and Congressperson.

3) Instead of shopping on Amazon, use these 25 ethical alternatives to Amazon, to purchase general merchandise, food, clothing, home goods and cleaning supplies, books, and personal care products.

4) For your home improvement and gardening supplies, choose Lowe’s instead of Home Depot. Lowe’s was quick to provide decreased store times, along with increased time off and $80 million in employee bonuses.

5) Farmer’s Markets are starting to open, with prescribed social distancing regulations. Please support your local farmers.

© 2020 by Kevin John Fong. All Rights Reserved

A cultural translator and racial healing practitioner, Kevin works to weave people and possibilities to cultivate communities of belonging — www.kahakulei.com