Maybe it’s the incessant isolation, or the anti-social Social Distancing. Perhaps it’s the mere thought of the word quarantine. It could be the escalating public panic, or the paucity of toilet paper, or the seemingly inescapable gaze into the gaping maw of death that the current global pandemic engenders….whatever the precise reason may be, my brain insists on pondering that which my sanity would be much better off pondering not at all. But alas, ponder I do…
Consider, if you dare…
…the many aspects of daily American life that have suddenly been turned upside-down and inside-out. “Business as usual” definitely does not live here anymore!
What’s to become of the American Legal System? If gatherings of any number, beyond the boundaries of one’s own residence, are banned by law, how can trials by jury be conducted? Are people now being arrested, thrown in jail and left there without benefit of arraignment or trial?
With schools closed, how will our children learn? With all but a precious few businesses shuttered, how will our citizens earn? What’s to become of Service Providers whose services can no longer be provided? What of the Merchants, the Craftsmen, the Artisans, the molders, and makers, the builders and bakers…and what of the customers whose need for consumption far outweighs their empty shelves?
What’s to become of the Renters who, without paychecks, can no longer pay the rent? What of the Landlords who, while receiving no Rent Checks, must pay the monthly mortgage on the buildings that house all those out-of-work tenants. How will families afford to buy whatever food is still available for purchase? And, once bought, how will that food be stored and cooked when there is no money to pay the Gas and Electric bills?
Spring is in full bloom today, and Summer is but a breeze away, so we who may already be in the dark, can be assured that we will not freeze…today. But Winter will come…oh yes, Winter will surely come, and when it arrives, will it be greeted by a Vaccine? Will it?
Donald Trump, he of the “great and unmatched wisdom”; self-anointed Stable Genius, Clairvoyant and All-Knowing Guardian of his personally autographed version of Truth, Justice and the American Way, insists that this whatever it is – unfortunate hoax; Chinese germ warfare; Democratic plot; inconvenience or brilliant Hide-and-Seek-Playing Enemy – will soon be banished by the warm winds of April…or by the indefatigable will power of the Great and Powerful America…or by a multisyllabic medicinal cocktail of dubious provenance – but, in any event, it will soon be but a distant memory (remembered only by those few unfortunates who were unfortunate enough to know one of the few unfortunate people who were unfortunate enough to not be strong enough to outlive the unfortunate hoax; Chinese germ warfare; Democratic plot; inconvenience; or brilliant Hide-and-Seek-Playing Enemy)!
Mark Twain is said to have said: “There are three kinds of Lies. Lies. Damn Lies. And Statistics”. (If he were still among us today, Mr. Sam ‘Mark Twain’ Clements might be sorely tempted to amend that phrase and add a fourth – “any utterance from the mouth of Donald J. Trump”.). But, be that as it may…
Those who are charged with keeping track of things most of us might prefer to ignore, are saying that Covid19, though indiscriminate in its choice of Host, is more likely to end the life of those over the age of sixty – the iconic generation known the world over as Baby Boomers.
We Boomers who marched in the streets and, with our banners and our ballots, brought a war to an end. We Boomers who demanded voting rights, pay equality and justice for all. We Boomers who burned most of our brassieres and many of our bridges, all to bring a flower empowered compassionate wisdom to a crew cut, half-cocked world. Is a Plague called Covid19 to be the end of the Thinkers and Tinkerers; the Scientists and Surgeons; the Professors and Providers — the brains that, for decades, have guided this nation’s brawn?
Consider, if you dare…
…if the CoronaVirus is not soon wrestled into submission, cured and exiled, America could become a nation whose elders are not yet old enough to retire. What is to become of a society that has lost its Elders…whose young ones, thanks to the necessity of Social Distancing, grew up without benefit of the essential skills learned only by Social Contact? Who will lead the Followers when the Leaders have been lost?
It would be tragic in the extreme if all of that were the limit of today’s tragedy, but, alas, I fear such is not the case…
Consider, if you dare…
…the thousands of Americans dying daily, their lights extinguished by the Covid19 Pandemic. On average, 150 people die each day in the city of New York, but, ably assisted by Covid19, that number has now doubled. Funeral homes, crematoria, city morgues, and cemeteries are being overwhelmed (I almost wrote “overrun”, but thought that might be a tad tacky, so I typed ‘Standing Room Only”, but , well…whatever – overwhelmed they be). Where, oh where are the newly departed to go?
Enter, New York City’s Hart Island. Well, okay, the island didn’t just enter….it’s been in Long Island Sound since like…forever (or thereabouts). It’s approximately one mile long and one-third of a mile wide (or thereabouts), and its history is downright Gothic.
During the American Civil War, Hart Island was used by the Union Army as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers. Then it was used by the Union Army as a cemetery for Union soldiers. It was privately owned by one Edward Hunter for a while, then, in 1868, he sold it to the city of New York. (a sale for which Ed received $75,000, and New York City received a place to bury 1,875 impoverished former New Yorkers who could afford no other accommodations).
In the 1870’s Hart Island became an isolation ward for patients of the Yellow Fever Epidemic. In the 1880’s, it was home to a charity hospital for women, then it was an Insane Asylum, and, not long thereafter, returned to its roots, as a prison. By the dawn of the 20th century, New York’s Hart Island was an Old Folks’ Home (for old male folks only), and, down the road a piece, a TB hospital for women.
In 1904, Hart Island housed a Boys Reform School. Ten years later it opened its doors wide enough to accommodate several thousand inmates New York City’s other jails were too packed to handle.
And then came World War II, and with it, Hart Island’s patriotic new assignment: Military Barracks….military barracks for…(wait for it)… incarcerated military men. But the war ended (as most wars are wont to do), and, in 1946, Hart Island found itself back in the hands of New York City’s Department of Corrections. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), the Corrections Department wasn’t, at that particular time, in the market for additional incarceration real estate, so, in 1950, it handed the island over to New York’s Welfare Department, who used it to house male derelicts. The derelict population must have liked the place because, by 1954, New York City’s derelict population was populating by leaps and bounds so….back to the Department of Corrections went Hart Island. (Nobody bothered to mention to those derelicts, or their keepers, that from 1955 – 1961 the United States Army just happened to be using a few chunks of Hart Island to house a few Nuclear Missiles.)
In 1966, the Hart Island Jail facility was closed, the prisoners were relocated, and Hart Island became home to the Phoenix House Rehabilitation Program for Drug Addicts. And so it remained, until 1976 when New York City’s Department of Corrections laid claim to it once again.
Out went the Junkies, in came the….nothing. The Corrections Department didn’t seem to have any surplus prisoners so, for a while, Hart Island was home to only its history, and, of course, a few thousand long-shed mortal coils. And so it (and the remains) remained, until 1982 when prisoners once again called Hart Island home…until, in 1991, they were all transferred to New York’s notorious Riker’s Island Prison.
Since the mid-1800’s, New York City’s Hart Island has been a prison camp, a prison, an Insane Asylum; an Old Folks’ Home; a quarantine spot for victims of Yellow Fever and TB; a Rehab Center for Drug Addicts, and a cemetery for soldiers, prisoners, indigents, the homeless, and victims of at least three plagues – Yellow Fever; Spanish Influenza; AIDs and…now…Covid19.
Before the birth of 2020, and Covid19, the notorious, soggy ground of Hart Island had already become the final home of nearly one million. Today, more than 100 soldiers from the U.S. Army, National Guard and Air National Guard are working in shifts, around the clock, driving rented vans all over the city of New York, to pick up the bodies of homeless, indigent, or unknown Covid19 victims and loading them onto Ferry Boats for the ride to their Hart Island final resting place.
Those bodies arrive at Hart Island in unmarked wooden coffins where they are stacked three high, in rows of six, and placed in trenches the approximate length of a football field. One new trench was dug in early April. A second was dug on April 8th. Before Covid19, Hart Island saw an average of 25 burials a week. As of today, that number has increased five-fold. More are now buried daily at Hart Island than were interred on a weekly basis only weeks ago – no fewer than two dozen each day, every day, Monday through Friday. There are no mourners. There are no flowers. No Psalms, no songs, no head stones – just contracted workers clad in Hazmat Suits, with only backhoes to bear witness.
Consider, if you dare…
…what will become of us – all of us – if the future of this nation…the future of its people…the future of all we hold dear, is left in the hands of the same Stable Genius who insists that the brilliant Hide-and-Seek-Playing Enemy will soon be banished by the warm winds of April; or the indefatigable will power of the Great and Powerful America; or a multisyllabic medicinal cocktail of dubious provenance – but, in any event, it will soon be but a distant memory (remembered only by those few unfortunates who were unfortunate enough to know one of the few unfortunate people who were unfortunate enough to not be strong enough to outlive the unfortunate hoax; Chinese germ warfare; Democratic plot; inconvenience; or brilliant Hide-and-Seek-Playing Enemy! Consider, if you dare!
–Y.Not?! (aka Brooke Jones)
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