Waiting for The Social Network, 2010
I started writing this post a year ago, in April, as the numbers of Americans lost to the pandemic hit 50,000. This week, it hit ten times that number. A statistic that we simply can’t fathom. To try to illustrate that in football stadiums or past war casualties is pointless. We just don’t know 500,000 people.
I have been keeping myself busy with homeschooling our 6 year old, family meals and work, trying to ignore the news and statistics. But everyday seems to bring word of the loss of a person that I admired or a person connected to someone I know, a parent, a brother, or a dear friend of a friend. This started with John Prine. The day he died, I sat at my desk listening to his music and as the songs drifted through the air, a wave of emotion came over me.
Early on, people seemed to take solace in the fact that the virus apparently only seemed to kill “old people” or “people with compromised immune systems”. The problem with that line of thinking is in the word “people”. For many, that means “not me”. But it could be, and it will most certainly be someone. And that someone is going to feel alone and scared (like you would). And that person will take with them their laughter, talents, memories and secrets that they held dear throughout their life, high school crushes, embarrassing moments, and all the things they wish they had done. A person you don’t know, and will never know, maybe much older, but who is more like you and me than we are willing to admit.
This union of “the other” and “you” was what Prine was best at. Contained in his music is an understanding that no matter how hard you try to improve yourself or pretend, you are just going to be who you are, and hey, it’s ok. Every symphony, every poem, every work of art a human has ever created has hoped to keep at bay, even for 5 minutes, this dark existential suspicion that we are just a collection of cells that started walking around one day. In losing John Prine, we lost one person who could tell us the excruciating, unbearable, beauty of the other 500,000 people that we lost with him.