I heard a sermon this morning in which the pastor prayed that we would get back to normal as quickly as possible. He hoped that God would drive out the scourge of the virus and that we would be able to return to our lives. I found myself thinking, “I hope we don’t return to the way it was…we probably will…I wonder how long this would have to go on before we wouldn’t?”
The latest credible estimate is that the novel Coronavirus may kill 100,000-200,000 Americans. In 2018, America experienced over 48,000 suicides and 1,400,000 suicide attempts, and the numbers were very similar in 2019. So, if we assume the upper end of damage from the Coronavirus, it would take about four years for America to be hurt as much, but not as publicly or dramatically, by suicides.
As we’re learning the hard way now, the most insidious ailments are the ones you can talk yourself into thinking don’t apply to you, until they do.
Just as suicides have many larger systemic causes, though we treat each one (and the person when they were alive) as an individual and idiosyncratic case for analysis and medication, the Coronavirus’s spread also has many larger systemic causes, most of which we are also not inclined to question.
Suicide, especially prevalent in the United States in the more rural Midwestern and Western states, correlates with poverty, decreased opportunities and cultural isolation. The Coronavirus, coming from our coastal mega-cities, is spread through vectors of high population concentration, globalized trading networks and the wealth to travel the world.
What brings these two terrible scourges into focus is the common fantasy of our invulnerability and the reality of our likewise common fragility. We want to believe that there is no physical challenge we cannot fix with science and technology. In the end our faith in those two gods, who too often serve the ultimate money-god, makes us unwilling to accept limits and live within them.
Hence we didn’t see the fragility of the just-in-time supply model until it stopped reliably supplying. When it comes to mental illness, this delusion that we can overcome anything has led to a belief that it is not the way we live that causes so many to despair unto depression and suicide, but that we simply need to treat the resulting chemical imbalances and unproductive thoughts.
Go ahead and hope like the pastor that this pandemic will pass over soon, but don’t hope that we get back to business as usual. Instead, take the opportunity with hard-won clearer vision to think about what we want to change once the virus lets up. Will we remember that our love for each other is stronger than our addiction to unrestricted consumption? Will we pour our energies into making sure that our fellow citizens do not live lives of disconnection and hopelessness?
Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army. –Ezekiel 37:9