“If you know this history …, you’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes”

Afterr Life: A Collective History of Loss and Redemption in Pandemic America
Editors: Raye Lynn Barnes, Keri Leigh Merritt, Yohuru Williams
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Pages: 370 

The emotions that immediately come to mind when I read this essay collection on the pandemic are heartbreak and relief. The stories of injustice are deeply saddening but hearing from rational people is a relief. Too much of the irrational makes one despair of ever learning the truth. Is it that the US in comparison to other countries fared so poorly? The editors examine this and related questions beginning with the introduction and what follows, “but the heart of this book is a series of everyday stories of everyday people living through pandemic America” (3). They provide a political and factual framework that highlights our devastating failures. It reveals an administration that wasn’t able to transcend politics and shows how governments often get it wrong at a cost of lives. Readers see suffering but glimpse hope for change through stories that amplify various voices. Even though conservatives like myself may not agree with some of the perspectives and conclusions, this is a valuable document of what happened and why. It’s wise to listen and learn, which creates a foundation for communication. 

In the introduction we meet Marquerita Donald, a forty-nine-year-old mother, sheep farmer and Navajo translator at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Center’s respiratory care unit. Along the way we witness the impact of COVID on the Navajo Community, “At times during 2020, the Navajo Nation had the highest coronavirus infection rate in the contiguous United States…. The Navajo Nation surpassed both NY and CA in both positive cases, and deaths per capita, with 32,528 confirmed positive cases and 1,403 confirmed deaths out of a population of 173,000 people” (10). This underscores the desperate struggle to find PPE and basic hygiene equipment that was insufficient in much of the country. Further, it shows how COVID has had a greater impact on minorities, the poor, elderly and even women. Though the statistics throughout the book are damning, the personal stories carry the greatest weight. 

“El Paso In Mourning,” commemorating the first anniversary in 2020 of the August 3rd massacre in El Paso, can inform us today as we consider immigrant and border challenges. It was on this day that an anti-immigrant white supremacist deliberately targeted people who looked Hispanic, killing twenty-three people and wounding twenty-three others. 

A long history of anti-immigrant sentiment was exacerbated by President Trump’s rhetoric: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” referring to those crossing the border. Before he went on, he corrected himself, “These aren’t people. These are animals.” This kind of language is misleading to say the least. Since every person is made in the image of God, regardless of how degraded it might be, words like these are inexcusable. 

El Paso became the place that instituted the family separation policy “that eventually removed nearly 5,500 children from their guardians.” Injustices followed and protests fell on deaf ears. Can people of all persuasions agree that it’s never right to treat immigrants and those crossing the border in inhumane ways? We define ourselves by how we treat others. 

Let me remember that I’m the greatest fraud that I will ever meet, others are better than myself and those who criticize or judge me don’t know how bad I really am. Pretending to have it all together is a burden we need not bear. Dropping the facade makes it easier to love others including enemies. 

This entire book is about relationships. We should face our history, confess our wrongs and make amends. 

More important than any label, be it conservative or liberal, is the name I bear as a follower of Christ. Am I becoming more Christlike, living compassionately, acting justly and walking humbly with God? Even those who leave God out of the equation can adopt similar values making for a better society.

Leave it to fiction in David Baldacci’s A Gambling Man to inform real life: “If you know the history of a place, you’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes of others who came before you …” (245). Time after time in After Life we learn the history to avoid repeating the past.   

Michael Dalton