People die. We are all going to die one day. Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously observed, “If you live each day as it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.”
No one wants to die. Some people are just afraid of living.
American humorist Mark Twain once said, “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Author and slavery abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
Over the past two years, 6 million people worldwide have died with Covid. That’s the equivalent of 100 commercial passenger airplanes crashing everyday with everyone dead.
Proving the logic that money can’t buy happiness, many of those Covid airplanes— full of American citizens— crashed. Since the start of the pandemic, the United States has recorded more than 1 million “excess deaths.” The deaths are mainly attributable to Covid-19, as well as conditions that may have resulted from delayed medical care and overwhelmed health systems.
Ironically, the wealthiest nations have suffered thus far the most death, physically and spiritually. The United States, Russia, Italy and Spain were among the most brutalized. Meanwhile, money-poor places like Africa and Chuuk have been blessed with the kingdom of a relatively Covid-free heaven.
Here on Guam, we waste time talking about a new hospital while 300 people die in the one we have now. At the very start of this state of emergency, the Army Corps of Engineers made it crystal clear that the imperative was to fix the decrepit, life-threatening structural failures at Guam Memorial Hospital.
Despite the damning engineering reports, medical vendors remain unpaid, hospital ceilings remain unfixed and moldy walls stay unclean. While more than $300 million in federal relief funds lay unused in Guam banks, more than 300 Guamanians have died only to never know if a hospital shall ever rise in Mangilao.
On Guam as in the rest of America, a striking communal acceptance of Covid death seems to have emerged. It is now normal to hear that 10 people died with the virus today. Mass deaths and suffering are no longer newsworthy. A quick survey of American newspapers seems to indicate that no one really cares anymore. It seems it is now time to move on.
This willingness to forget the dead might be due to a psychological phenomenon known as psychic numbing, the idea that “the more people die, the less we care.” Heartless financial considerations aside, the communal amnesia of Covid deaths may be evolutionarily pre-ordained.
Taking care of one life is tremendously important when it seems like our personal heroism will be effective. Some degree of altruism may be adaptive and certainly praise-worthy and we’ll do anything to protect that life, save that life, rescue that person. But as the number of dead increases, the previously altruistic human mind seems to weaken, and self-preservation prevails.
Like a man with Alzheimer’s dementia, Guam is forgetting the dead.
I am afraid that if we are successful at compartmentalizing death into a thing already done, Guam will no longer be what it was once. Who will tell us the story of our family, our hopes and dreams, if not the Dead? Who will challenge us to stand for something, to do things when we are young, to be proud of when we are old, if not the Dead?
Who will inspire us to protect our children and stand up for our friends? Who will challenge us to try to make a difference and to give a damn? Who will remind us to believe in God and His plan? If not the Dead.
Meanwhile, more than 140,000 children in America have lost a parent, a grandmother, an older sister, a caregiver due to Covid-19. These newly orphaned children are probably not ready to “move on” and live with the virus. Another one million Americans can’t move on either because they’re already dead.
Over the past two years, we have witnessed and participated in a public health catastrophe of historic proportions. More than 300 Guamanians were not murdered by the Covid-19 virus. Rather, the virus committed murder on Guam more than 300 times.
In the grand scheme of Covid-19, the greatest comfort we can give to those left behind is to grieve those who have died. Grief, fully and honestly expressed, is the natural expression of pain when someone that loved you dies. Gratitude is the highest honor that can be given for lives meaningfully lived. Through this natural process of grief and gratitude, we hope that those who remain will go on to comfort and care for each other.
So rather than close our hearts and forget the dead, we are challenged to make their deaths a celebration of lives worth living. In the face of this deadly virus, we must be fearless and compassionate. We must love unconditionally, forgive unrepentantly, and open our borders even in the face of chaos.
Guam, where America’s day begins, was brought to its knees by a 50-nanometer viral particle.
We have been pushed, tormented and defeated. Our Covid hospital is broken beyond reasonable repair. Our Public Health system was staffed with people who quit upon the first sign of trouble. Public information officers, media consultants, special project coordinators were no match for Covid.
GovGuam’s insanity of conceit was exposed as the virus feasted upon the fruit of payroll politics.
There is no better hammer to break open your heart than to get trampled by your enemy. Defeat is a great teacher. It shows you your blind spot.
As a wise man once said, you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens. In that spirit of heartbreak, let us arise from our grief, grab our violated civil rights by the hand, and vote wisely.
Dr. Vince Akimoto practices Family Medicine at the American Medical Clinic. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org