As I planned out what I was going to write, this week, I kept circling around two points I'm struggling to comprehend in a meaningful way. First is the sheer number of Covid deaths that have occurred in the US. John Hopkins records that the US has had over 2,100,000 confirmed cases and, as of this morning, 115,827 deaths from the novel coronavirus.
The University in our nearest town has a football stadium that proudly declares official capacity as, 107,601, but "...has hosted crowds in excess of 115,000.." If a disaster occurred on game day that took out our filled-to-capacity stadium, the national press would certainly cover it for, at least, a day's news cycle. But here's the second point I struggle with these days - we used to have an active local paper that covered not only the moment of initial horror but also the ensuing challenges, and the remembrances, for years to come. It reminded me of the uneven expression of grief across the country post- 9/11. Though we were all shocked and horrified, I could see on my cartrip, from Michigan to Massachusetts, that we don't all grieve equally. By then Michigan's expression of grief was subdued. But in NY the visible signs of grief were everywhere - on the turnpike and at the gas stations, in the absent seats at major events, at the moments of silence before any activity. In 9/11 we lost 2,996 lives. NYC surpassed that number in Covid deaths two months ago. And we have no local media to keep this present in our minute-by-minute brains. We have no common shared policies or practices other than each of us doing our own risk analysis and making our own protection. This individual level response has caused no small amount of angst in my community. Without a local, active media, we chatter instead on social media channels - amplifying falsehoods and reinforcing one another's bubbles. I find that more stressful than helpful.
What has been helpful, for me, in times of deep sorrow is to try to find a way to help. It keeps me from feeling completely powerless against so much pain. I want to know I can make a positive difference in the face of suffering. In the case of Covid, the Black Lives Matter, and Defund the Police protests, I started researching "Effective Altruism" presented a few weeks ago on Shankar Vedantam's excellent series, The Hidden Brain. This movement was started by Peter Singer and his proposal that those with affluence focus their giving to charities that do the most good with that funding (See The Life You Can Save or go to Givewell.org). I was familiar with Peter's early work, Animal Liberation, but Peter's effective altruism work resonates with me for its common-sense, multi-pronged approach to maximizing making others' lives better which, in turn, balances my sorrow with a sense of hope. In particular, his explanation of our generation as the first with true Global Responsibility resonated with me. He writes that, in former generations,
‘Charity begins at home’ made sense, because it was only ‘at home’ — or at least in your own town — that you could be confident that your charity would make any difference.
But now, of course, we can do so much more. We really can. And I want to learn how.
I had only just started exploring this material when I learned, on my shift this morning at Explore.org, that one of the two polar bear cubs I follow on cam had tragically died last week. Though exact cause is still to be determined, it appears she was drowned while swimming with her sibling, as well as a much older sister and her grandmother - all bigger, stronger bears. All of us who volunteer know that we may see the unpleasant side of nature when we're filming but to witness this in a zoo and to such young, vibrant animals, was a truly rugged shock. My heart goes out to the camera operators on shift as well as to the zoo officials who mourn the loss while, I know, they evaluate and re-evaluate what might have avoided this outcome. It's easy to say, "The way to avoid the outcome is to not have wild animals in zoos." And I've struggled with that conundrum as well. I would prefer that polar bears be wild. I defend the work of the AZA to make animal enclosures more humane and to embrace animal welfare philosophies. As we watch polar scientists attempt to understand the effects of climate change on the north, the polar bear has become the most visible symbol of the impact we have on our planet. In my darkest days, I defend zoos as the arks that save species from extinction. So to pandemic and anti-racism add climate change to my sense of global responsibility.
In my perfect "snow-globe world" I want polar bears to be able to raise their young in the arctic. There their young are equally vulnerable (45% mortality is a working number for polar bear cubs pre-climate change research) but they are not constrained by man-made enclosures of any size. And I want all species to be treated with respect and equal care. I want health care practices that don't discriminate and governments that provide policy and universal coverage to ensure all American citizens have equal access to enjoy their First Amendment rights.
Where do we start? Where do I start? As I process the grief of the loss of one polar bear cub, I continue to process the loss of more than 100,000 Americans. I will continue my research to becoming an efficient altruist - with my time or with money or with access. I re-commit that this time in pandemic can not be wasted and I hope that through something I do new ways of thinking will emerge. We need new models created and embraced so more of us can live fully, mourn more consciously, and be supported more completely in a more humane America.
Addendum: I was recently contacted by the people at Finimpact asking if I'd include this link to their important post, Ways/tips to support and help black-owned small businesses. A great resource that I"m adding here for any readers and for my own reference. Thanks Finimpact!