Making Meaning of a Death Count by Walking in a Cemetery

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my attempts to make sense of death counts. Yesterday, my friend, Joe Mathews, wrote about his own brilliantly simple way to do the same: he took a walk in a cemetery.

Joe chose to walk in the original Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. As he explains:

Since Forest Lawn opened here 114 years ago, in 1906, it has interred 340,000 souls on this property. Under current projections, the United States will experience 340,000 COVID deaths by sometime in January, 10 months after the March lockdowns began.

Such statistics are sobering and tragic. They also reflect a fundamental human failure: We experience individual death intensely, but struggle to recognize death in the aggregate. That’s why we can more forcefully rally together in response to one death—like the police killing of George Floyd—than in response to escalating numbers of COVID deaths scrolling across our screens.

Our myopia is why we need cemeteries right now, and not just as places to bury our dead.

Read the whole piece. There’s lots of good stuff about the history of Forest Lawn and of some of the folks who are buried there. And go take a walk through a cemetery. I’ve never walked any of the cemeteries in Colma, as Joe suggested for Bay Area folks, but the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland is a peaceful place to walk and think.

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