America is an oligarchy organized by the hierarchy of the white supremacist patriarchy. Pancake Brain is a (free) Friday newsletter dedicated to replacing the status quo with equitable public power. If you’re into that kind of thing, I hope you’ll subscribe and share. This project is based on How to Start a Revolution, which you can read (or listen to) here.
Dearest Pancake Brains,
On the morning of March 29th, Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that the United States would see “between 100,000 and 200,000” deaths from the Coronavirus. He cautioned that it was only a projection based on current models, noting that public behavior will continue to shape the real outcome. Unfortunately, Fauci’s grim estimate has almost been proven correct. As of today, the United States is nearing 100,000 deaths (94,729, to be exact).
I was startled by how empty these numbers seemed to me when I first heard them. I’m a hyper-sensitive empath, feeling far too much most of the time, and so the lack of emotional reverb over mass death was particularly startling. My little brother was sick with the coronavirus earlier in the month. Mercifully, he has since recovered. I thought of how I felt when my mom told me that Paul had a fever, and tried to multiply that dread by “between 100,000 and 200,000,” but it still just seemed like an abstraction.
I recalled a quote from the Former Premier of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin, who once said, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths a statistic.”
“Fauci says between 100,000 and 200,000 people could die,” I told my partner Tristan. “What does that number even mean?”
Tristan and I have been sheltering in place with my parents in New Jersey since early March, and that afternoon, we made our last trip back to the Brooklyn apartment where we moved in together a month before the world fell apart.
Staring down the parkway, on the ride into the city, I felt around for context with mile markers of death. I looked up the toll of 9/11: an estimated 2,753 lives were lost in New York City after hijacked planes ripped a hole in the skyline, 2,977 overall. On March 29, when Fauci gave his estimate, Johns Hopkins estimated that 2,200 people had already died nationwide. By April 7, an estimated 3,202 people had died of complications due to COVID-19 in New York City. As of the last time I checked, New York City alone has seen 15,789 coronavirus deaths — and, let’s be real, you know that’s not even fucking all of them.
Driving past our old bodega, I interrupted my wanton longing for the Before Times, strapping on a makeshift mask and pulling on a pair of plastic gloves. We got out of the car, and held up our fists in solidarity, gearing ourselves up for the experience of navigating our old home like a crime scene.
The elevator felt radioactive, and not just because of that godawful fluorescent lighting. Every button was a surface that could have been touched by the invisible ghost of disease.
“Let’s make this quick, OK?” Tristan said, locking my eyes when we walked inside. I fought the urge to roll around on the rug, and instead, grabbed a garbage bag, and started packing.
We had to make a few trips up and down the elevator. Tristan stayed downstairs to load our things into the car, so I was alone when I locked the door. I looked down the hall, preparing for a wistful goodbye sigh, and froze. In front of my neighbor’s doorway there were three white hazmat death suits preparing to go inside.
We knew each other in the way of so many New York City neighbors, which is to say, I often looked forward to seeing the sweet old man who lived down the hall, and also couldn’t tell you his name. I would always hold the elevator for his uneasy slowness, usually momentarily forgetting that I was late for something. He’d often be wearing a slick wool hat, regardless of how hot it was outside, and just as consistently, he would smile at me like he really meant it.
I thought of the last time we’d talked on the ride, and rushed downstairs. Tristan could tell something was wrong.
“Our neighbor died,” I told them. “The sweet old man.” We rushed to take off our gloves, frantically rubbing sanitizer on our hands, so that we could hug each other tight.
In the car, I reached for my phone and turned up the volume on “Funeral For A Friend.” “These 11 minutes are for you, my friend,” I said as the organs chimed in, and then it hit me, and I let myself sob, for the sweet old man down hall, and all of my neighbors.
As the death toll climbs to 100,000, transcribing Fauci’s daunting prediction into reality, it is not only incumbent on us to grieve, but to honor the dead.
Imagine what it might be like if we had a real leader right now. There might be some kind of ceremony for national mourning. There might be a regularly updated list of basic fucking safety guidelines.
The Trump administration is a white supremacist authoritarian regime, but even if we could put all the nationalism and corruption out of view for a moment, he would still be a danger to national security. The sheer incompetence of Trump’s response to the pandemic alone is an atrocity deserving of removal of office. Make no mistake: This country would be safer if the President had the governing ability of a laminated CDC printout. If national leadership providing clear and coherent information for navigating the pandemic, there would be less death. Instead, we are being ruled by criminal negligence.
It’s impossible to calculate the exact toll of Trump’s incompetence, but consider this: According to Columbia University, 36,000 fewer people would have died if the United States implemented social distancing a week earlier. If we had started two weeks earlier, 83% less people would have died, or about 54,000 people. The critical takeaway is not the numbers themselves, but the urge to let mass death harden into statistics.
As we suffer from this dark night of the soul, we must allow ourselves to be transformed by the pain. The world will never be the same, and that can mean a lot of different things.
In addition to death and sickness, the coronavirus has struck the planet with the urgency of collectivism. We are all tasked with changing our behavior to save each other, and, indeed, to save ourselves. In response to the crisis of the pandemic, honor interconnectedness means social distancing, and in response to the crisis of democracy, it means insisting on your right and duty to the political conversation, first and foremost by registering, voting, and making sure everyone you know is registered and voting.
From the deep hurt of our reigning dystopia, we must evolve by vigilantly aspiring to an ethic of oneness, which will first save us from the disease, and then build equitable public power on a habitable Earth — that is, assuming we have a shared goal of species survival.
Open yourself to the grief of the coronavirus next time it hits you. Don’t smother the darkness with anger or let yourself go numb. Feel it all. Scream and cry, maybe roll around on the floor listening to Elton John. And then pick yourself up, and decide that you will be part of creating the future we all deserve.
Compartmentalization crunches numbers into statistics, making it easy to tap out of the too-muchness of it all. There’s no correct way to process this tragedy, but, if you’d like to feel feelings about a number, try this one: On November 3rd, 2020, we vote this fucker out of office. That is what Americans owe the dead, and what we old the world.
With earnest irreverence,
p.s If you dig this, I hope you sign up and/or share it with your friends.
Thank you for being a fierce voice of reason, Lauren. My soul needed this.
You always make me cry Lauren. Healthy tears, true tears, for the old man down the hall. And yes, "November 3rd, 2020, we vote this fucker out of office." And boy will there be tears of joy that day!