As I watch the arguments in America, in Israel and in many other places around the world unfolding, I feel like there is one overarching message missing. And it’s one that so many people need to hear, and feel and receive. And that is empathy. Validation. I simply cannot imagine the trauma that so many are carrying while they watch their leaders negate their feelings, their experiences and their pain.
So, I’m writing today to express my empathy for anyone who needs it.
Because COVID-19 is very real.
And we have many, many reasons to be scared, to grieve, and to worry about how, and when, it will all end.
While I do not have the desire to engage in political discourse, to argue with others, or to share memes, I do have the ability to show empathy.
And that’s what I’ll do, and what I can continue to do. Because I hate to imagine the nightmare that so many have found themselves in, living with leadership, or with neighbors, who negate their pain; living with anyone who would describe COVID-19 as a “Gift from God” or near anyone who has decided his personal freedoms are more important than my right to live.
So, here is my message to anyone and everyone who needs to hear it.
To the 210,000 of you (and counting) in America, to the almost 2000 of you (and counting) in Israel and the many more around the world who have died since COVID-19 started, I am so deeply sorry for your lost lives. I’m sorry if you didn’t know about COVID-19 when it crept up on you; if you knew about it, but were living in an assisted living facility and couldn’t get out of its path; if you were young or middle aged or old and had a pre-existing condition; if you believed it just wouldn’t get you. I don’t care if you were 82 and “probably would have died sometime soon anyway” as I’ve actually heard with my own ears. I don’t care if you were 97, as my friend’s grandmother was, and might not have had much time left. You certainly had more time than COVID-19 gave you, and if it robbed you of even one more day that you would have had, that was one more day to be loved, appreciated and cared for by those dearest and nearest to you.
To the families and friends who are now grieving – I’m so deeply sorry for the loss of your loved one(s). The staggering numbers of dead mean that there are millions of people left behind grieving. And each of these people knows that this virus is no joke. It creeps in all of a sudden and turns the 33-year-old healthy father of 2 into a man gasping for air and whispering: “help me to breathe.” It seems to be letting up, only to suddenly take away the vivacious student with Down Syndrome, the one who everyone loved and who made everyone who ever knew him smile. It suddenly snatches the 28-year-old doctor, the young woman who risked her life every single day to care for the patients on her ward. And you, you’ve been left behind. The grieving mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son, grandchild, grandparent, cousin, babysitter, neighbor, caretaker. You’ve been left behind to find a way forward through your own fear; to watch the funeral service on Zoom, rather than being there with your loved ones; to be by yourself with your grief, devastation, and continued fear. I am so sorry for your loss. I hear you. I see you. I’m listening and I feel your pain.
To the countless thousands, hundreds of thousands, who have survived, but have lingering medical issues, I hear you. I am listening when you talk about the burning sensations in your limbs, when you explain that you have permanent damage to the heart, or when you describe how winded you are when you climb a flight of stairs. You tell us about the pit of fear, the beast that hunted you for days and days and days as you spiked a fever and had jagged breathing and hoped to turn the corner; when you were rushed to the hospital and then went back home only to return again. And how you fear a second round, since no one can guarantee you are truly immune. Your numbers can’t be counted, since they change and grow all the time. To you survivors battling the ever-present beast – I hear you. I see you. I’m listening. And I’m so sorry for the pain you are experiencing.
To the health care workers out there – I see you, too. I applaud you every hour of the day for suiting up in those incredibly cumbersome outfits to work with COVID-19 patients. I applaud you for holding their hands when their loved ones can’t come into the room, for shuttling messages between the sick and the well, for listening and helping and saving so many. I applaud you for the fear you must feel every day getting so close to the fire, as you pray when you get back home that you haven’t taken it with you. That the beast isn’t at your back or lurking in the curtains, waiting for your children to fall asleep at night.
To each of you crying into a pillow at night and feeling like you’ve been forgotten, I have not forgotten you. I am reading your stories when you write them in the newspaper, on social media, on your blogs. I’m holding your hand, even if it’s virtual as so much is today, and I feel your pain, your fear, your desperation. Your devastation. Your grief. I hope my empathy can touch even the tiniest corner of the darkness, of the abandonment that you feel, and that it offers a way forward.
Back to the light.
For all of us.
This article first appeared on the Times of Israel website.