The COVID-19 pandemic brings suffering, and instability, and dislocation, and trauma, and loss. And it brings death. It brings the death of individuals, it brings the statistics of death, it brings the ratings of death, it brings accountability for death. It brings a constant chatter about death--death that has come, death that is here, death that is yet to come.
Death is both a physical manifestation of personal tragedy and loss; death is an abstraction that is used as an illustration, as a sign, as the symbol and harbinger of this or that. Death becomes the marker because of the identity between pandemic and death. This is not the orderly death that can be understood by the application of the metrics of the cycle of life, a production line in the factory ordering undifferentiated passages from birth to death, nor is this death that is positioned at the end of ordinary medical protocols for the ordinary experiences of life. It is the ultimate terror--it brings with it the potential of death, where everyone is potentially marked even as only some suffer directly or indirectly. But in the process death becomes the air we breathe, it becomes the substance of the information we receive. It is the subtext of all communication and the excuse for every action. We are choking on the fumes of death and touched by its drama as it is played out in personal tragedy projected through the miracle of technology to all corners of the earth.
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Every one of us experiences death, engages with it, and participates in its passage from a potentiality on the horizon, to the whirlwind that uproots everything, to the detritus of an engagement around us that is indifferent to the way in which we clean it up. Death comes in the petri dishes that cruise ships have sometimes become; it surrounds islands of isolation like the rising sea, always threatening to overwhelm those islands of isolation situated precariously between the satisfaction of prevention and the guilt of as passive witness of the flows of death swirling about them. witness. To avoid testing is to tempt Death, to test positive is to acquire a marker of death's potential.
The last three paragraphs are histrionic; they read like a bad poem; they are suffocating. They mean to convey intensity, panic, emotion, alarm, and all of the other reactions appropriate to a crisis of this kind. They are meant to contribute to a narrative that is useful for getting people to take the pandemic seriously, and to treat institutional instructions with even greater seriousness. News reports, governmental statements, the analysis of experts, the attention of social media--all of these add layers that in the end read like a constantly reinforcing reminder of societal distress at a macro and micro level.
At the same time there are stories. And these stories of those who in the face of epidemic chose that path are worthy of retelling. A few of those stories follow. Suicide is an an abstraction; it is the sum of the stories of individuals confronted by a context of meaning, of significance, we have all helped to build.