COLUMN: A week of death, injustice and unreasonable hope

Do you sometimes feel there’s little hope on the other side of 2020? This past week was certainly a week to feel that way.

Our nation surpassed 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is now sixth out of 195 nations for those most-affected by the pandemic.

We can blame government from the local to federal level for the loss of 200,000 Americans. But blame does not bring them back, nor does it recognize and honor the inherent worth and incomprehensible loss of 200,000 lives. The hard truth is, government draws its power from us. And ultimately, the immense and unnecessary loss of American lives is due to our own callous indifference to human life, and a society that worships a self-centered version of liberty, even when it endangers the lives of those around us.

And, in America, if you want to see the worst of callous indifference to lives, just let those lives be Black.

Wednesday, a Kentucky grand jury willfully ignored the life and death of Breonna Taylor. When Taylor was shot and killed on March 13, she was a young woman with boundless potential, executed for the crimes of an ex-boyfriend who wasn’t even there.

She had completed college, had her own apartment, was working as an ER tech with goals of becoming a nurse, had just bought a new car and was working toward a house and family, according to the NY Times.

In spite of being born female and Black, Taylor had overcome the weight placed on her neck by our society, and had managed to get her fingers into those elusive boot straps. All that was snatched away when she was shot five times by a police officer. In her own apartment.

When the grand jury handed down an indictment for wanton endangerment, Breonna Taylor’s name wasn’t even mentioned. The only crime, according to the grand jury, was from the bullets that didn’t strike her body.

For those still wondering why people insist on saying Black Lives Matter, consider an injustice system that can’t even acknowledge a Black life was tragically, unnecessarily and illegally snuffed out, let alone that her life had intrinsic and equal value.

If that weren’t enough bad news, we also bid farewell to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The pop-icon Supreme Court Justice was a tireless and fearless guardian of women’s rights, and of justice for all Americans. She lived up to, in every sense, the Jewish tradition of naming someone who dies on Rosh Hashanah a tzaddik — a person of great righteousness.

The Supreme Court and the country may be irrevocably changed by her absence. But, we will survive. I hold onto hope in the words of the Jewish prayer said when learning of someone’s death: Baruch dayan emet — Blessed be the one true Judge.

And finally, there has been cause for tears and hope among the Enid community’s unsheltered residents.

The city of Enid had to make some hard decisions in removing benches in an area where these neighbors of ours liked to congregate. These decisions had to weigh competing and legitimate concerns for the city, for business owners and the general public, in addition to our unsheltered neighbors.

Thankfully, and to its great credit, the city is working with a broad spectrum of nonprofits, churches, businesses and the unsheltered themselves to find long-term solutions in the wake of short-term fixes.

This will be a complex effort, requiring a lot of time, talent and dedication. But, above all, it is an effort that will have to balance the interests of business and city, with the intrinsic worth of those God has entrusted us to love, who deserve every bit as much compassion and dignity as any other member of this community.

Toward that end, an Enid letter to the editor recently offered great advice, suggesting an Enid city leader “host a barbecue at his home for them (the unsheltered) and invite them into his home.”

My wife Tammy and I recently had the honor of doing just that, when several of our unsheltered neighbors accepted an invitation to our home, to help cook 400 hot dogs, to be served to those in need.

We laughed. We grilled. We listened to and talked about our favorite music. And, when the work was done, we sat down, prayed, and broke bread together. It was, without reservation, one of the best evenings we’ve had in a long time.

Finding long-term solutions will be hard. But, hopefully, through more of the direct and compassionate interaction our letter to the editor author suggests, we will begin to see our neighbors not just as problems, but as beloved children of God, forgotten in a society that ignores mental illness. A society that lags behind medical science in recognizing addiction as a mental illness, and not just a moral failing. A society that persistently sees the unsheltered, the mentally ill, the addicted and the poor as less-than human.

The path will be hard. But, with love, I believe we will get there. Because, with love, no matter what other darkness we face, there is always hope.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at
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