How Mutual Aid Provides a Path to the Future

I keep thinking about a man named Tony Sizemore, whose partner Birdie Sheldon was the first person in Indiana to die of Covid-19 in March, when deaths were fewer and victims more likely to be memorialized as individuals rather than joined as statistics to a growing number that now stands at more than 100,000. As part of a contribution to the Washington Post’s “Voices of the Pandemic” series, Sizemore ended his story by correcting local news reports that stated he was able to comfort Sheldon in her final moments. Still, he didn’t blame anyone for wanting to believe a kinder version of events. “I’d like to find a way to sugarcoat this thing, too, but I can’t. Anything good I could say about this would be a lie.”

I repeat that line, in my head, like a warning, whenever I try to speculate about what might come next. Anything good I could say about this would be a lie. I remember Tony Sizemore when I am tempted to believe that this upheaval and loss will transform us for the better, because the alternative is too awful to imagine.

I shared with friends recently that I am glad to be from a region where people don’t compulsively seek silver linings, where many older folks like my grandparents were called “no hellers” because they refused to believe, with so much suffering in life, there could be any punishment left for death. I hear Tony Sizemore in my head but I might as well be hearing every person who had a hand in raising me. Anything good I could say about this would be a lie. My people would add: Just do the work. What is the work? To survive, and help others survive.

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