“Mac died this afternoon from Covid. Not vaccinated. Thought you’d want to know.”
The text message from my friend fired across my screen like a lightning bolt: sudden, unexpected, and with an energy-sucking force that brought me to my knees.
But she was right—well, mostly. This was certainly information that I’d “want to know,” and that I needed to receive (well again, mostly) to grieve, to share, to reminisce, to extend condolences. Her opening words provided both the reason for the update and its impact on the future: “Our friend Mac is gone.”
“My God! What happened?” Knowing the shock value of the information she’d shared, my friend also knew the question that would inevitably follow. Her next words served as a preemptive strike to deliver the answer: “Covid.”
I’d known Mac for years. He and my brother were classmates, and he’d been hanging at our house since we were kids. We dated throughout our college years, but by our mid-20s, we had the good—and mutual—wisdom to recognize that “friends” was the relationship that we did best, and we agreed to return to that status.
We kept in touch through our respective marriages, divorces, kids, and grandkids, but with increasingly long intervals between touchpoints. The last time we talked was by phone, and even in hearing only his voice, I could still see the man I had always known: happy, easygoing, fun-loving, and with a smile that would warm the coldest room or brighten the darkest heart. The sound of that smile resonated through his words that day as he told me how grateful he was to remain in great health and how thrilled he was to finally begin the “golden years of retirement.”
And now, this? What had caused everything to change so drastically between that phone call and this message? “Covid.”
But, “Not vaccinated”?
While it may have been the answer to what she assumed would be my next question, my friend’s last words regarding Mac’s passing stunk of a slur intended to profile him and share that he had died as one of “Them.”
Why do we assign our own type of scarlet letter to those who have made choices that conflict with our own? Why do we relegate them to be different and apart from us? Does it enable those who have joined the ranks of “Team Us” to feel better? Or more enlightened? Or superior?
When a Covid death occurs, why do we strive to make ourselves feel safer by choosing to distinguish and distance ourselves from “Them” with a “There but for the grace of God…” observation and prayer? Why do we create a Covid caste system, and what value can this labelling and divisiveness possibly provide?
I wish Mac was still here. I wish I could call him and ask him to help me understand the reasons behind his choice—and I would share the reasons for mine. I would quote my ICU doctor friend saying, “I know that people who get vaccinated can still get Covid. And I also know that those not getting the vaccine are the ones filling this ICU. They think that they have come here to be cured; they do not realize that they have come to die.”
But most importantly, I would tell Mac that I love him and that I don’t want to lose him. I would ask him to reconsider the options available that might mean we get to share the planet for a while longer.
Mac will never hear my words. We’ll never get to exchange thoughts about vaccines. But his choice not to get one and his reasons behind that choice no longer matter. None of these conversations count today. The only thing that matters is that my friend has passed and, assuming that the teachings of my religion class were true and are now being accurately recalled, he has already faced his final judgment.
Can we please ignore the temptation to conduct our own sorting and impose our own damnation? When a final judgment has been rendered, regardless of how someone has come to arrive at the Judges Stand, can we let it be just that—final?
It seems to me that death is damnation enough.