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Commentary Coronavirus

Opinion: We can never just move on from 500,000 lost Americans

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One year ago, I remember telling my friends that this all seemed like a science-fiction film. 

It’s hard enough for us to comprehend the loss of one person. It’s nearly impossible to understand the loss of over half a million. Five hundred thousand mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters. A collection of both those who have lived a rich, fulfilling, and long life and those who never had the chance to start. 

To lose half a million Americans is equivalent to losing the entire population of the city of Atlanta. It’s more than losing the whole city of Miami, Minneapolis, New Orleans, or Cleveland. 

A year into this crisis, I can’t help but feel like this is still science fiction. 

It is difficult to calculate the cost of this pandemic. COVID-19’s toll on us as a society was never only the number of people who passed away. Even those who recovered paid a cost to their health, some even having actual scarred hearts from it. In addition to this, there are even those costs that are beyond physical health. 

Over the last year, combating this virus has been compared to war. But the ruins of this war are much less noticeable. There are no crumbled buildings or widespread and year-long austerity of produce and goods. The ruins of this war are much more subtle. 

They are, for example, the mom-and-pop shops that served their communities for decades but now find themselves out of business. In a world so eager to return to normalcy, is it not true that these losses will be quickly covered up. These local businesses will be painted over and replaced by a chain store that survived this covid-recession with capital to spare. The community stands changed and not for the better, a staple of the community gone. 

What about the human cost?

The pain of a boy who cannot accompany his sick father lying in a cold hospital. The dying father himself, alone and afraid, whose last words, whispered in an empty room, remain forever unheard.

Long after this crisis is over, when the suits vie for bonuses, the young drink in celebration, and the poor struggle to make ends meet, who will remember this boy?

When the busy stand unamused in a subway car and the stranger passes in silence down the sidewalk, who will ever wonder if this stranger was once that grieving boy?

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that the world moves on. But this crisis is different, the world is quite truly moving on — eager to leave this crisis behind us.

Is it not true that we all are? These last 52 weeks have been harsh on all of us. With the hope of this crisis soon ending, we all are excited to gather with loved ones, celebrate with friends, and forget the nature of the last year. We all wish to return to enjoying the pleasures of life before COVID-19, pleasures that we took for granted. 

But I cannot help but worry that if we are so eager to move on and so anxious to forget, what will stop us from taking life for granted once again?

If we edit out the last year from our memory and mark it up as lost time, maybe we haven’t learned anything at all. Perhaps, we’re not willing to grapple with the actual cost of this crisis.

We should not return to a pre-COVID world but move forward into a new one. Not only because it is not possible to return to this world — we and our surroundings are much changed even if we didn’t notice — but also because maybe we’re meant to embrace the changes of this crisis and build towards a better world. 

In order to do this, one must focus on one’s neighbor, on oneself, on one’s love and care for those who make up our society. By doing this, we’re remembering those we lost and those we never got the chance to say goodbye. Life is a fragile thing. Appreciation is how we protect it.  

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Ryan James Solis

Ryan James Solis of El Paso is a junior at Harvard College on a gap year from studying history and economics. He is a Gates, Jack Kent Cooke, and Coca-Cola scholar.

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