Heads up: This post discusses death and COVID-19.
How would you feel if you woke up to news that Salt Lake City was lost?
Every single person within the city dead. When the sun rises in the desert, no one stirs from the suburbs. There is no banter at the coffeeshop, no sleepy commuters on the bus. No students cross its college campuses. No worshipers stir near the massive temple. The streets are silent but for the wind.
It is a city of the dead.
Or imagine Salem, Oregon, destroyed. Just an hour south of Portland, it’s the state’s capital and second-largest city. The streetlights might flick on automatically, but our tiny downtown shows no signs of life. No heart beats to pump blood to a hand to flick on a neon “OPEN” sign. The cherry-lined State Capitol State Park is empty. The state fairgrounds, which only so recently sheltered evacuees from the local wildfires, now hosts nothing but empty exhibition halls and livestock pens. No one tends the fields. No boat pierces the Willamette River.
Or imagine devastation in southeastern Washington State, where I went to college. Not only is the town of Walla Walla gutted, so too is the Tri-Cities, an hour away. What would it do to your heart to see an entire region’s population dead? Thousands of people, never going to breathe again, never going to laugh or dance or sing or work or hold hands and watch the sun set.
Little Rock, Arkansas.
Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Any one of these cities–imagine it dead.
As I write this, the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus resource center reports that 199,299 U.S. Americans have died to the disease. If it were a city, it would be the 120th most populous city in the country. 200,567 people live in Salt Lake City; this city of the dead will overpass it within the next two days.
How would you feel if an entire major US city were wiped off the map… and the federal government did little more than wring its hands? Worse, the president even knew it was coming, and downplayed the threat? How would you feel if several senators used their insider knowledge to make millions off of these American deaths? If the president welcomed the deaths as an excuse to avoid “disgusting people”? How would you feel if the federal government looked at the impending catastrophe and insisted it was not its responsibility to prevent American deaths?
How would you feel if the city were 50,000 people? 100,000? How big could the necropolis grow before you would feel it in your heart? Before you would allow yourself to believe that this was wrong?
Every day, the city of the dead grows, and our country’s leaders do nothing.
Thanks to my friend Teddy for the metaphor.