We Have to Lead Each Other Out

I never liked Science Fiction as a genre. My brother was a Star Wars and Star Trek fan. Not me. I never wanted anything to do with people dressing alike. I dropped out of Brownies and later ROTC for those very reasons. You might have guessed that conformity was not my strong suit. I’m like the salmon, always swimming against the current.

So while my brother was watching Star Trek every afternoon, I was off reading Wuthering Heights or Christy. I was pulled into the machinations of human interactions at a very early age. I find living out a Science Fiction scenario far more distasteful. I would much rather be hanging out with Lady Grantham in a haunted castle somewhere on the coast of Scotland.

I was speaking with a friend this morning who told me that her 97 year old mother is in assisted care so they are only able to see her occasionally from the balcony. “I know she thinks she is going to die without ever being with us again,” she said.

In the wee hours of this day, I corresponded with a girlfriend from my youth whose husband is in a medically-induced coma, the result of Covid. She has not been with him for a couple of weeks now.  All of this calls to mind Frank Peretti’s book, This Present Darkness, which I read years ago as a college student. The crux of which is that angels can’t intercede on behalf of the world until people pray.

It’s not a theology I hold to now but I was fascinated by it then. I do believe in prayer, but not in the way of a capricious God who only intercedes when we have done the right amount of begging. I believe prayer does what talking to another person does – it builds relationship. It builds community. If I tell you I need something and you and I have a relationship, you may very well step in to help me. But not because I manipulated you or coerced you into it, but rather because you love me and want to be of help.

I believe we are created to need each other. I believe we are created to live in community. So if I were writing a Peretti style novel, I would create a pandemic like Covid because it embraces the spirit of the Anti-Christ, or Anti-Community. A virus that forces us to be completely cut off from those we need when we need them most. A pandemic that forces us to die alone, bereft of the presence of those we most love and who love us most.

My mother’s lone request once she discovered she had lung cancer was that she not be left alone. And she never was from that moment on. The woman who loved her solitude throughout her life did not want to be alone when she died. All of her kids and some of their spouses where there with her when she drew her last breath.

I read last night that the CDC is predicting that 11,000 people will die weekly throughout August from Covid. When I think of 11,000 people in the US dying alone with only the medical staff to attend to them, I am sunken to my inner core.

I have been reading the memoirs of Diane Carlson Evans – Healing Wounds – about the year she spent in Vietnam as an Army nurse. She relates how even now all these decades later she remains haunted by those young boys whose hands she held, and whose wounds she tended as they lay dying. Many of them cried out for their mommas with their last breaths.

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On her last day in-country, when Diane went to tell one of young patients that she was heading home and would no longer be his nurse. The soldier was hooked up to a vent so was unable to talk. He motioned for a notepad: “Please don’t go,” he wrote. “Don’t leave me.” Then he began to cry. “Wish I could see my mom again,” was the last message that soldier wrote to Diane before she departed.

I imagine such scenes are being played out across this nation as thousands take their final breaths, and as medical staffs note the time of death due to Covid.

When this pandemic passes, and it will as all before it have done, thanks to the scientists around the globe working to ensure that, I wonder how our medical personnel will heal from the wounds they have incurred by a virus that our leaders in Washington simply stood by and denied was a problem. We have to quit looking to this administration to be better. It won’t matter how many die, this administration will never lead us out of it.

So the rest of us must. We must be there for our medical community. If you have a friend who is working in a medical field right now, call them. Take them cookies. Write them a card. Find someway to let them know they are seen, they are appreciated, they are doing heroic work.

Look about your community – who are the unseen people? The isolated? The frightened? The worriers? The lonely? Find someway to reach out,  even if it is to stand in a courtyard and yell up at them.

Our world is in such deep, deep hurt right now. Praying for people is only helpful if we are then willing to do the work necessary to help bind up the wounded and sit with them in utter darkness.

We have to lead each other out of this, the way soldiers have done throughout every battle. Grab hold of someone and stumble together forward.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (William Morrow Co.)

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.


EE Jackson

about 2 years ago

I am moved by this message. Thank you for this brief passage. I was a combat medic in Vietnam for a year and mainly tried to stabilize the wounded and get them to better medical facilities as soon as possible, so I was spared most of the emotional impact that the nurses endured day after day. E E Jackson


Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Thank you for your service in Vietnam. While you might not have carried the emotional impact of the nurses, I know that being a medic was one of the most difficult jobs. Thank you for keeping as many alive as you could until they reached the field hospital. If you have not yet read Diane Carlson Evan's book - Healing Wounds, I highly recommend it. So glad this message resonated with you. I think many of us feel battle-weary right now. We have to hold on to each other.


AF Roger

about 2 years ago

Thanks for this reflection. I did not know of Diane's book but will put it on my list. One of the most memorable days of my life was Veterans Day 2012, the last time I was in DC. I read two poems that day, thanks to your connections, Karen. One person particularly moved by one poem was Dick, a former Army nurse in Vietnam who was finally on his first visit to the Wall after so many decades of taking care of everyone but himself. I stood nearby as Dick and Diane met each other and shared some things verbally--and so much that was beyond words. The poem I read, titled "Triage," was in turn inspired by a deep conversation with a former Army nurse here in Oregon. She was describing her own experiences beyond words--and a few details I have never read in anyone's book. In many ways now we are living in a trauma center in this country and we have to triage as best we can. That's all I can think. Here's something else I've concluded. The decimal point does not matter. The number of zeroes does not matter. For our "leaders" now, if 150,000-and-climbing COVID-19 deaths matter no more than they apparently do, it wouldn't matter if the number were 1.5 million--or 15 million. Apparently. Triaging each other is all we can do.


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