Forty-two. A number evenly divisible by two, six, seven, fourteen and twenty-one. It’s also the number on the baseball jersey of Jackie Robinson, who paved the way for people of color to enter the beloved sport. Molybdenum has the atomic number 42 and is also the 42nd most common element in the universe. The 42nd parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 42 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, the Mediterranean Sea, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean. Today, I am reflecting on my own personal 42.
Since May 2020, I have known of or personally attended the funerals of forty-two friends and relatives who have passed away. Indeed, as I write this article, I am about to officiate the funeral for number 42. It’s been about an even split with twenty of these friends and family passing away due to complications with Covid-19 and its successive variants and twenty-two to other illnesses. I’ve known more people passing away in their thirties, forties and fifties to Covid-19 and strangely, garden variety illnesses, than I have ever seen before in such a short period of time.
My wife and I came down with the “original” Covid in mid to late December 2020. I had it a little worse than my wife did. She had picked it up at a local nursing facility where she worked.
When the pandemic and the lockdowns started in March 2020, I knew only one or two people who had passed away and another one or two sometime later. Maybe because in my previous occupation, I was a numbers man in sales and marketing, I started to take notice at about the tenth loss of a friend or family member sometime in the late spring of 2021. Then the dam seemed to burst. The rest of the year I saw nearly thirty people that I called friends, simply fall to Covid or other illnesses.
I detested becoming numb to the deaths. I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s my job to feel empathy, sympathy, something. It became apparent that I was trapped in a world of the deaths of so many people I knew and I was struggling to feel something and whatever I did feel seemed inadequate. For a time, I even questioned if I could do my job effectively.
The politicization of this world tragedy curbed any legitimate discussion of how to manage and pull through this health crisis in a unified and dignified manner. This greatly concerned me. Open discussion was essentially frowned upon if your thoughts deviated from the script. At times we ostracized each other across the literal and virtual divide. The daily drone of numbers of cases, transmissions and deaths has done almost nothing to truly help us come through this together. I read histories of the early twentieth-century Spanish Flu. What caught my attention is how absolutely devastating these deaths were. There were whole streets in towns and cities across the country where death entered homes uninvited and snatched the lives of unsuspecting victims. I also read how we came together to solve problems and be there for each other. Remnants of families killed by that plague often found safe haven with neighbors and friends and they survived together, checking their politics, religion and cultural ideologies at the door.
As 2022 dawned, I knew I needed to be rescued from the anger, the arguing over whose science is more correct, blaring from our televisions and computers, and above all the deaths that I was constantly struggling to process. I needed rest from the constant barrage of information and the notifications of friends who had died, but to no avail. I never had the time to grieve effectively before the next notification. Since January, there have been four more losses, two of them high school classmates. I’m only 58. I have spent much time in prayer asking God to heal our nation physically and spiritually and to heal my heart and mind as well. In Matthew 11:28, Christ invites us to come to Him with the promise that He will give us rest. The closer I have come to that rest, the easier it has been to see people as God sees people. We’re His creation and He loves us. When we start loving people as God loves and stop leaving people in the middle of conflict and confusion, our hearts that have suffered through so much loss, will heal under the care of our God. The next person you see today, speak the words of Christ in love to them. If you can’t, then ask Jesus through His Spirit to give you that supernatural love. For only as we love can the voids in all our hearts be filled with the best things of life.
Roy Weeden is an ordained minister with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He serves three congregations located in Lock Haven, Milton and Williamsport and is the pastor and board member of the Mountain View Christian School in South Williamsport. He resides in Montoursville with his wife Laura.