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It’s so hard to wrap our minds around the deaths of 200,000 people, or any large number. They fade into unreality. We might reflect on how much grief is caused by the death of even one person close to us. Then we try to multiply that by 200,000 . . . and again, the sheer number makes them slide away out of our imagining.

This is where comparisons, however odd, can help. Some will leave us just as unable to grasp the reality of this disaster, but if just one works for you, good.

When the news reported this week that 200,000 US Americans have died of COVID,* a friend of mine from Vermont said, “It would be like losing one-third of the people of my state.” Suddenly we’re in a horror movie: a mysterious force has struck down one in three Vermonters. Dead bodies are found in barns, cafes, on small-town sidewalks . . . the two-thirds who are spared weep and stare at the devastation.

I live in San Francisco, so I can make that “One quarter of the people in my city.”

Three and a half Vietnam Wars would have killed as many US Americans as COVID-19.

Very roughly, we adults breathe 20,000 times a day. So if with every breath, day and night, for ten days, a person died before your eyes, that would be the death toll.

Picture a big outdoor arena, such as AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. If every single person who went to a sold-out game there were killed as they left the stadium, that wouldn’t be as many as our countrypeople who have died of COVID-19. Everyone at the next game would be killed too. And then, the game after that, only half the people would be killed. That’s 200,000 people.

If you’re making your 10,000 steps, then it takes about three weeks to take 200,000 steps. With every step, a death, for three weeks.

Is it real yet?

*In reality, going by excess deaths calculations rather than reported deaths attributed to COVID, we reached this grim milestone in mid-August.


In progress: painting of a window in Alcatraz prison. Acrylic on canvas, 9×12″

Acrylic on canvas, 9×12″ (c) 2020

Earlier in this third week of devastation throughout the state, a member of UUCPA emailed us the news that a fire was burning near Yosemite, just a few miles east of Bass Lake. Bass Lake is the site of Skylake Yosemite camp, where the congregation holds a “getaway weekend” each summer. This year’s was cancelled due to COVID-19. Now the camp itself, not to mention Yosemite and its nearby communities, are approached by a wildfire that has grown very quickly.

The man who sent the email included a photo from Caltopo, to which I guess he must subscribe. I hope they won’t object to my showing it here:

I shared it on Facebook, with a few words about all the loss and sorrow we are holding. Then, a while later, I checked my Facebook page, saw this image in tiny, thumbnail format, and had three thoughts in quick succession: “What is that?” / “It’s beautiful” / “Ohhh. The Creek Fire map.”

I knew right then that I needed to draw it, to spend time with, if not make sense of, the swirl of feelings it evoked. The above are three very small drawings, each 2 x 1.5 or 2 x 1.75 inches, in colored pencil, done earlier today.

Day 49 of #100days of making art

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