Half-a-million gone...

For over a month now, the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song—“Woodstock”—have been running through my head:

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration...

That song is something of a Baby Boomer anthem, a tribute to that seminal moment in August of 1969 when 500,000 young people descended on Jewish dairy-farmer Max Yasgur’s farm for a historic three-day music festival.

I know why this song, and those particular lyrics, came to mind. It is because of the somber milestone our nation reached recently when it recorded 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.

If you’re like me, you may have a hard time imagining 500,000 people; it is a number that defies easy comprehension. With apologies to Joni Mitchell, these words sprang to mind:

By the time we got to ’21
We were half a million gone
and everywhere was lament and devastation...

So I tried a thought experiment. How might I make 500,000 more comprehensible? Here’s what I devised.

If I were too devote one full minute of silent reflection to each of those 500,000 lives lost, how long would it take me? The answer? Over three-hundred and forty-seven days….almost a year of round-the-clock memorialization.

Try this. Pause reading my remarks, right now, for one full minute. Close your eyes, if you wish. Summon up, if you are able, an image of someone you know who succumbed to COVID-19. Upon opening your eyes again imagine, if you possibly can, doing nothing but that, 24-hours-a-day for 347 days. That’s one way to try to comprehend the magnitude of the loss our nation has so far endured.

As I write these words, the news reports that approximately 18% of Americans have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine. We have along way to go before we approach herd-immunity. The uncertainty raised by the emergence of a number of viral mutations makes it hard to predict when we might hope to experience conditions that will enable us to experience, once again, so much of what we have been forced to relinquish over the course of the past year.

Just as I often turn to the music of the era in which I came of age for insight, inspiration and solace, so, too, do I turn to Jewish tradition for the same. Two seminal Jewish teachings inform my life at this moment:

One who saves a single life saves an entire world.” [Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5]

It is incumbent upon all of us to do our utmost to saves lives…our own, those of our loved ones, our friends neighbors and the strangers with whom we share daily life. For the foreseeable future that will entail the wearing of masks and the maintenance official distancing.

The second teaching comes in the form a single Hebrew word: savlanut - “patience”.

If there was ever a moment that called for patience….with ourselves, with a less-than-perfect vaccine delivery plan, with our government, with Zooming(!)…it is now.

Stay safe...be patient...stay positive…test negative!

Reb Elias