Opinion: NYT front cover is the wake up call we needed

Reading the 1,000 names listed on the front cover of The New York Times’ issue on Sunday, May 24 felt like a cold hand grabbing my heart.

Never in my life have I been so acutely aware I was living through history. I was too young to remember 9/11, too removed from the wars waged in Iraq and Afghanistan and too desensitized to acknowledge school shootings like Sandy Hook and Parkland. These defining moments of my generation are nothing comparaed to what we have endured in the last months. 

Knowing the names that spanned the six columns on the front cover and the eight of the centerfold equated to only 1% of the lives lost hit me like a ton of bricks in a way no other representation of the numbers have in the past. Knowing The New York Times could run 1,000 names every Sunday for the next two years allowed the weight of this virus to sink in. 

What struck me the most was the way in which these people were memorialized. Each was given half a sentence to sum up their life. Can you imagine your life reduced to half a sentence?

The way we will remember this time — if we choose to learn from it or not — will be the defining moment of our generation. In the way Vietnam — a war that spanned nearly 20 years and took a little more than half the lives lost to COVID-19 — defined our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, we will always remember the past few months. 

Everyone is so eager to return to normal without taking the time to step back and reevaluate what normal means. We as a nation have lost our morality. We have forgotten what losing our neighbors means, and what the impact of 100,000 lives lost is. I don’t know how can we ever go back from this.

Here in Michigan — a state with one of the largest death tolls — we have not chosen to band together and support each other through this difficult time. We have chosen sides, sued our governor time and time again and demanded the rushed reopening of certain areas so people can risk spreading the virus to their up north residencies. 

I see memes all over Twitter comparing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Hitler, as if this all a joke to some people. As if the 100,000 lives lost are a joke. Here in Michigan, we have lost over 5,000 to the virus. In Oakland County, nearly 1,000. It’s as if one of those 1,000 were not a friend or family member. To some, a beach day with friends more important than their life.

After seeing this heart wrenching display of loss we have experienced in the last few months, I can only hope people will take a step back and remember why it’s necessary to wear a mask and social distance, and why we started our quarantine. Minor inconveniences will be worth it in the end if it means less names on the ever-growing list.

We are all struggling right now, either with mental trauma, emotional trauma or financial burdens. Quarantine has not been easy, but nothing about it has made me cry until I saw the names in The New York Times — not the loneliness, frustration, anxiety or discomfort with change. 

Nothing I have lost in the last few months — whether it be my job, my college experience, my plans with friends or my vacations abroad — will ever be more significant than the lives lost to COVID-19. The New York Times put it beautifully when they said, “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.”