The churches of Fayetteville, NC had a bell-ringing commemoration today starting at 11:00 AM. 500 rings to represent 500,000 American COVID deaths. I went downtown to where the old church buildings were. I situated myself between the First United Methodist Church and the First Baptist Church, and sometimes I could hear a Presbyterian or Catholic church farther away. I stood on the sidewalk midway between the first two churches: the Methodist – with its measured electronic bell – and the Baptist – with its in-the-hands rope to pull its bell and people taking turns.
I bowed my head and listened for 20 minutes. Six rings with each ring representing 1,000 people – the population of my wife’s small home town in Washington State in the United States. Twelve rings – the population of my own home town also in Washington State. When they were halfway done at 250 rings – the population of Fayetteville, North Carolina in the United States, or before that at about 220 rings, Spokane, Washington or Tacoma, Washington. At 270 rings, Durham, North Carolina. When it completed it’s 500 rings, those bell tolls represented the populations of Raleigh or Charlotte, North Carolina, or almost the populations of Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon.
I pondered with some tears the mothers and fathers – many old but some young. Husbands and wives. Grandparents. Brothers and sisters. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins. The young adults who were college students or who were trying to make ends meet by being a server at a restaurant. Those about to be married or just married. The children just starting in life, not really understanding what is going on. Also, medical staff. Teachers. Police officers. Fire fighters. College professors. The clerk ringing up your groceries. The worker delivering your packages and mail. The person who butchered and cut up your meat for your lunch. Latinx. Black. Indigenous. Asian. Southern Asian. Everyone.
The virus cut down those who took great care with their health by faithfully using masks and social distancing – some afraid, many wary. But the virus also went after those who denied it’s a problem, that it’s a hoax, who feared that their liberties were being taken away from them, who refused to wear masks. Without respect, the virus went after those who represented God to people – whether as a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam. Those who didn’t take precautions because God was going to protect them and their people. And those who took precautions in the house of worship and were berated for trying to protect their people.
This virus let many off easily. However, it also caused long-lasting effects in others with some suffering debilitating illnesses lasting for the rest of their lives. But the 500,000 people? More than the American battle deaths of WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam combined (approximately 425,900). These are honored at sacred grounds with rows of marble-white memorials marking their passing, but the COVID deaths are without the same honor and veneration among generations.
500,000. One person every minute since a year ago. Honor someone with your thoughts toward them today, but especially honor those who still live while they can appreciate and enjoy that honor. Honor the living and remember the dead.