President-elect Joe Biden has called for 100 days of mask wearing starting on the day of his inauguration. I’m pretty sure that I’ve been wearing these things for at least 100 days now, and I’m happy to go another 100 or more if it will help stop the spread of this horrendous contagion. But COVID-19 is not the only virus that is plaguing America, so I want to ask us all to consider entering into a deeper discipline on Jan. 20 — namely 100 days of national mourning.
To start, we need to mourn the loss of more than 330,000 people who have succumbed to this awful disease (and at this pace, likely to pass 350,000 by the time the 100 days would begin). In 2001, President George W. Bush declared Sept. 14 as a national day of mourning. At the current rate, we’re losing the equivalent of one 9/11 every few days. So, it sure seems like 100 days would not be too many to reflect and remember the lives lost, as well as the sorrow suffered by the loved ones left behind, most of whom never even got a chance to say a proper goodbye to their neighbor, spouse, partner, sibling, parent or child.
The deep wounds suffered by COVID’s effect on the economy also call for a time of bereavement and reflection. Not just for the shame and debasement that humans suffer when a job is lost, but also for the accompanying loss of health care, increase in hunger, escalation of evictions and homelessness and loss of hard-won savings accounts. One wonders, for example, how many children won’t be able to go to college in five or 10 years because their parents had to spend down the college fund. We also need to recognize the anguish of the many small-business owners who have had to close the doors on their life’s dream, along with the evaporation of the money they’ve invested to build the business and keep afloat.
While the sorrow of these wounds must be remembered, the deeper diseases that continue to plague this country must also be memorialized. So, while we’re grieving all of this loss, we should also be lamenting the history of chattel slavery and Indigenous genocide that form the backbone of so much of the “American way.”
Mark Charles starts his brilliant book “Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery” with the realization that “You cannot discover lands already inhabited.” Yet this fundamental notion that “heathens” must become “civilized,” that the white man is somehow a superior human who is generously bestowing his largesse on those less fortunate, and that doing so gives one the right to claim ownership of the assets of those colonized still permeates far too many of our institutions, laws and policies. The great Ta-Nehisi Coates puts an even finer point on this when he states that “America is literally unimaginable without plundered labor shackled to plundered land.” These and many other fundamental flaws in the American myth need to be corrected before we can move forward with any semblance of a united country.
The process of addiction recovery starts with the simple step of admitting that we have a problem. It is only then that one can move forward toward righting the wrongs committed along the way and establishing a new and healthier set of habits. I would submit that a national period of mourning would be a first step toward admitting this problem.
So, Mr. President-elect, I will gladly continue to wear my mask for the first 100 days of your administration (and as many more as it takes until we can all hug each other once again). But as we put on that mask each day, perhaps we can pause to remember the lives lost, the lives irreparably damaged, and the ways that our conscious and unconscious biases and attitudes have impeded our progress as a nation and as humans.
Just 100 days, Joe — just 100 days.