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Virus Without Borders #101

               © Ed Koenig holding a photo of his husband, Jody Settle, during a recent vigil, with permission.                                                      


I am part of all that I have met.


-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Ulysses"



I started writing this blog post on May 11, the day the government declared the end of the Covid emergency in the United States. It's not a watershed moment; it's just one moment to take a healthy breath—if we are so fortunate—to celebrate the end of restrictions, fear, survival, the survival of our loved ones—if we are so fortunate. And not everyone is, far from. More than one million deaths just in the United States. Is our grief communal, individual, or both? Are some of us untouched and unscathed by these past difficult months and years? Is that even possible? And what about people in war zones, or poor countries, who never received a vaccine? Or the migrants crossing our borders and the EU's borders? In a way, the pandemic was --and is-- an ecological disaster, too. And AI mapping won't help us contain another one, or will it?


So this is back-to-basics, Virus Without Borders # 101, like the first day of college, or the day I began the dedicated Virus Without Borders blog posts more than three years ago, utterly confused and ignorant. What have we learned since? What have we learned that we can apply to whatever is next for us? For this country? For our troubled world? If we are indeed free of worry about this still mutating virus, how will we use that freedom? Will we become more indifferent and self-centered, or more engaged and responsible? And why is it, all too often, that those who suffer the most, become kinder, smarter, and willing to sacrifice? I have a theory: The privilege and self-centeredness in our personal lives—and  as a nation, and within our nation—has  been amplified by deprivation and fear, or released by deprivation and fear, depending on our personal challenges, traumas, upbringing, politics, spiritual beliefs, and temperament. 


My student, Ed Koenig, lost his husband, Jody Settle, to Covid.  Ed has become an advocate for the children who lost their parents, not to mention that he's been assisting migrants at his local church. This week he will attend a launch party of an anthology of stories, Who We Lost. He will stand up in front a group of people and read his essay, "On The Road Again," about Jody aloud.


The collection was curated and edited by Martha Greenwald, a former adjunct professor of writing and a well-known poet, originally from New Jersey; she lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout 2020, Governor Andy Beshear held televised pandemic update conferences; they included  brief stories about someone who had recently died. Martha's own visceral grief was stirred each time he spoke. Her optometrist father had died in a tragic accident in 2009 when he was hit by a car, ironically, by a driver who had no peripheral vision. The story is described in the acknowledgments of  Who We Lost, but not in the introduction. "I didn't want the book to be about me," she told me in a telephone interview.


Still in quarantine, wanting to do something positive for others, she launched the not-for-profit  https://whowelost.org/ website and then approached Belt Publishing with an offer to curate an anthology from the website as a living, portable memorial. The website is still online collecting stories, and for those who have never written before—and even for those who have—it includes a fascinating "toolbox," with prompts. 


In truth, we have all felt vulnerable, we've all suffered, though perhaps not as grievously. I have not lost anyone as close to me as a partner, or even a friend, or relative. I've been free of that particular pain. I even felt somewhat elated on May 11 as I'd just received my 6th Covid shot and wanted to celebrate. I bought a new lipstick, a frivolous, pleasurable, self-care reward. I've missed everyone's chins and lips. I've missed my own chin and lips, my husbands chin and lips, my doctors' chin and lips.  I had an eye doc appointment this week and LOL everyone in the office was unmasked. "Oh, what a nice face you have," we said to each other. And, as I was departing, "It's been so nice to see you, I mean really see you. And how did you and your loved ones survive Covid? Did everyone make it through?"

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