Who We Lost and ‘Who We Lost’

An anthology of essays by individuals who lost loved ones to Covid, Who We Lost, edited by Martha Greenwald, will be published on May 9, 2023, by Belt Publishing. An essay that I wrote specifically for this volume is included. Order your copy now from the publisher and booksellers everywhere. (Support your independent bookseller!)

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After my father died of COVID-19 in May 2020, I have followed various groups online that advocate for those of us who lost loved ones in the ongoing pandemic and for those who advocate for justice as well as for preparation for the next pandemic, as there certainly will be one.

There are many memorial groups, more than I know of, I think. There is a movement to establish a national Covid memorial day for the victims, on the first Monday each March, which has attracted the support of senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and representatives including Greg Stanton. There is a design proposal and plan for a gasp-inducing and beautiful virtual Covid monument:

The most effective have been those that collect stories, those that ask us to look beyond the mind-numbing and sometimes overwhelming statistics and instead see that each number is a story of a full life cut short, those that invite us to meet and honor those we lost.
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All Politics Is Local, Indeed

This is an endorsement of my friend Alexandria Wojcik’s campaign for re-election. I reside in the Town of New Paltz, not the Village of, so I hope the anecdote that I share below means more than my current street address.

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In December 2021, my landlord informed me that he wanted to move from New Paltz, New York, to North Carolina, which meant that he needed to sell the house we both resided in. He estimated that this process would take three months or so. It actually took only three weeks for him to find his next home and receive an offer from someone to purchase the home we both resided in. In the current real estate environment, this should not have been a surprise.

In those three weeks, I placed an ad for myself as a renter/housemate (I live on a limited and fixed income, as I am disabled, which longtime readers know) in various venues like Craigslist and Facebook and others, and I responded to every ad I could find. There were no legitimate rentals—not in mid-winter, not in the middle of a month. I have friends in real estate, and they utilized their resources and knowledge on my behalf; it was obvious that a good solution would be eventually available, but not in the desperately brief window of time I was in. I started to research how to place myself in a homeless shelter. (It is not as easy as one may think.)

Two public officials stepped up on my behalf: New Paltz Village Trustee Michele Zipp, who offered me temporary space in a relative’s home, and New Paltz’s Deputy Mayor, Alexandria Wojcik. New Paltz is a small village, and these two brought this to life for me in the best possible way. I have not yet met either of them in person, yet help was offered. Online, I must come across as a good person; I hope I live up to that thought both online and in real life.

Michele Zipp announced last week that she will not run for re-election. Alexandria Wojcik has started to campaign again. As she embarks on a re-election campaign as village trustee and gathers signatures to re-qualify for the November ballot, I write here something I have said to my friends one-on-one for the last year: Alexandria exemplifies the best in our community and even helped me re-acquire a sense of hope at that difficult moment last year.

As I wrote above, Alexandria and I have not yet met even though we have many friends in common and it is likely we have lived in many of the same apartments in our New Paltz histories. I also write this as a voter in the Town of New Paltz and not the Village of New Paltz (for those in New York State, this makes sense; and for those not, it does not), so I can not vote for her or serve as a signature on her ballot petition.

Alexandria and Michele did something unique in my experience, and I share this small anecdote as something that is not unique to Alexandria—others with whom I have spoken share similar stories—and as something that I hope becomes ever more frequent among all public servants. Part of our national problem right now stems from the fact that most political figures are characters on a TV show from most voters’ perspectives and are thus viewed through our emotions rather than our experiences. Our current political climate is closer to road rage than problem-solving, but we can change this, one experience at a time.
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Pandemic Diary: #NamingTheLost

Two days after my father, William Robert (Bob) Aldrich died of COVID-19 (May 10) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, I was a participant in an online video meeting. Just before it was my turn to speak, something caught my eye: a cardinal, small but rich red in color, alighted on the Rose of Sharon bush beside my window.

Not many birds choose to visit this bush; it is crowded with thin branches and it is smack against the side of the house here. Also, the flowers are not in bloom yet; when they are, the bees will comprise approximately ninety-eight percent of the bush’s visitors rather than birds: through the day, the sound of bumblebee collisions with the window next to the Rose of Sharon punctuates my day.

The red of the cardinal caught my eye, because red always does, and birds are somewhat rare on that exact spot and cardinals rarer still (this was the first time). I mentioned it as I spoke, mostly to make a joke about the fact that the previous speaker’s cat had leapt into her camera frame. (Her cat had chased this bird to me, was the quip. I’m a dad joke waiting to become a father.) Someone all but said that the cardinal was my dad; I do not remember if the thought was that a bird’s visit is spiritual or a cardinal’s visit is.

Red cardinals are the males of the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); my dad was male, of course, but his hair was red when his hair had color. Red so noteworthy that his nickname in his hometown was “Red.” My friend had no way to know this.

I do not believe in a spiritual world, but sometimes it can almost seem (even to me) that the spirit world wants my attention. I do believe in a spiritual life in that I believe the only point to life is love; perhaps that is not “spiritual,” perhaps it is.
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