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Low moments / August 27, 2020
2020, a year for grieving like no other.

Halifax County received the latest blow on this front Sunday with the deaths of two members of the Halifax County High School community in unrelated incidents. Kolby Singleton, 18, who graduated in May from HCHS, died in a car crash that was all the more horrifying for the disintegration of the vehicle when it struck a tree in the highway median of U.S. 58. Hours later, 16-year-old Aidan Henderson, a rising sophomore, died after he was pulled from Buggs Island Lake after going under while swimming. He succumbed later that night. Throughout the community, hearts are broken for their families, friends and loved ones.

One does not need to have known these young people personally (I did not) to share in the pain that arises with their deaths. Losing two kids — two warm and generous souls, according to those who did know Kolby and Aidan — is always hard. But I don’t think we need to shy away from the idea that these tragedies summon a special feeling of loss because of our particular moment. This is 2020, after all. A cursed year when bad, demoralizing news is practically all the news we’ve got.

I was reading through the headlines this week when I landed on a piece in Rolling Stone magazine, about the speech that Joe Biden gave last Thursday at the Democratic National Convention. This part especially caught my eye:

In a culture preoccupied with sparking joy and following bliss, expressing feelings of sadness is discouraged. The bereaved are granted a brief mourning period, and then expected to return to regular lives as if nothing had happened. Despite all of this, Biden has been remarkably open about his grief and how it has shaped his personal and political life. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this idea that Biden’s experiences with grief could make him a strong candidate for president were being discussed, including in a January 2019 article from Politico, which described it as his “superpower.”

At the time of writing, more than 176,000 people in the United States have died as a result of COVID-19. After six months of the pandemic, some may have become desensitized by these numbers, while others try not to think about them ....

With the death toll continuing to rise, having a president and administration that understands grief could change the trajectory of our post-pandemic society. Each of the deceased have families, friends and communities who are mourning these unexpected losses. But regardless of whether people have been personally affected by COVID-19, we’ve all been living through a collective trauma that will likely take years for us to fully process.

A good read: “Grief Is the Unofficial Theme of the Biden Campaign, and That’s Exactly What We Need,” by Elizabeth Yuko. (She also writes about the death of her mother this year in the same piece.) On Sunday, my mother would have celebrated her 86th birthday. Today, Aug. 27, my sister — little Sylvia, who died of cancer — would have turned 57.

Grief is a huntress that finds us all, sooner or later. I’m terrible dealing with it. But in this damnable year, events have sapped our collective capacity to not only properly mourn the dead, but face up to the realities that sped their demise. COVID-19, obviously, has brought out the worse in some people (and the best in so many others). It’s also been a match thrown on the fire, with no end of arsonists ready to spread destruction everywhere you look. Many of you by now have seen the video footage of the Kenosha, Wis. police officer who shot a Black man in the back, repeatedly, in front of his three young children, for doing nothing more than walking away peacefully from the officer. On Tuesday, three people who were protesting this outrageous action were shot by an assailant carrying around a long gun in the streets of Kenosha. Two of those struck died. A 17-year-old suspect has been arrested and charged with first degree murder. Initial press accounts suggest he may have White supremacist proclivities. We shall see.

The world burns. The grieving mounts. No community, no person is immune. How will this madness end? Tragedy is unavoidable — life is wondrous and cruel in equal measure — but our ability to cope with tragedy’s impact is tested by the current non-stop punishment of our senses and our souls. Yet there’s no way to escape the darkness other than to clutch stubbornly at decency, kindness and determination to fight through it. We must succeed in the task.

Back to Biden’s speech: If you had told me beforehand that ol’ Joe — a 77-year-old former vice-president and old-school politician — would give a speech that would make me weep, I would have laughed in your face. And yet, it happened. Right after Biden said this:

I know how it feels to lose someone you love. I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest. That you feel your whole being is sucked into it. I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes.

But I’ve learned two things.

First, your loved ones may have left this Earth but they never leave your heart. They will always be with you.

And second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose.

As God’s children each of us have a purpose in our lives.

And we have a great purpose as a nation: To open the doors of opportunity to all Americans. To save our democracy. To be a light to the world once again.

To finally live up to and make real the words written in the sacred documents that founded this nation that all men and women are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Biden’s life experience is etched in loss: his first wife and infant daughter died in a car crash after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate as a young man. In 2015 his son Beau died of brain cancer. (The same malignancy that took my father’s life.) It’s impossible to comment on Biden’s speech, and the promise his words hold for healing in a traumatized nation, without also noting the malignancy of our current presidential leadership, but I would submit this much, too: Americans are a decent people, regardless of how our national turmoil plays out in the news. We see this time and again on a personal level, even if the translation from the personal to the political can become hopelessly garbled. Trust in the people — that’s the creed of America, through historical wrongs and the all-too-slow realization of our exalted national promises. We are forever obliged to push our way to this progress, to come to terms with our pain by creating the conditions for joy in the days to come.

Through hardship, through grinding adversity, through political disunity and discord — let’s not let this moment of trepidation and doubt weaken our resolve to set our world, and our nation, aright. Our children deserve nothing less from us.

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