So far, close to 300,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 with no end in sight. The way things are going, we may likely have more than one million deaths in the next year. And those who are dying feel cut off from others, since family members cannot be with their loved ones at the moment of death because Covid-19 is such a debilitating force and lethal covert enemy.
It’s likely that numerous individuals won’t want to be tested, just as millions refuse to wear a mask, practice self-distancing, and remain at home as much as possible. And the vaccine won’t bring an instantaneous stop to our suffering and severe discomfort. It could take years before everyone in the world will be treated with the vaccine.
We are social animals and it’s exceedingly difficult when we can’t hug or give a kiss to longtime friends. It’s painful when families can’t get together at celebrations like Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Muslim holy day, Eid al Fitr, Kwanza, the Jewish High Holy Days, the Buddha’s birthday or the Hindu feast, Diwali.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are without a job, can’t pay their rent or mortgage, and can’t put food on the table. In some cities, cars are lined up four or more miles long, so folks can get a meal from their local food pantry. On the other hand, farmers are losing their farms and going bankrupt because they can’t get a decent wage for their crops.
There must be a way for the federal government to pay farmers for their crops and pay chefs who can prepare meals for those in need, particularly infants and mothers-to-be. If we can go to Mars and put an astronaut on the Moon, shouldn’t we be able to take care of the poor and downtrodden?
Instead, there’s continual gridlock in Congress between Republicans and Democrats to increase the federal budget and work out a compromise on a bill to give their constituents stimulus checks. One wonders how lawmakers could go home and enjoy the holidays this year while millions of Americans cannot pay their rent or mortgages and when millions of families are deprived of food.
Remember though, in December 2019, the Senate in a 51-48 vote along party lines gave lasting and deep cuts to corporate taxes from 35 percent to 21 percent. This bill was opposed by Democrats who said it was a Christmas gift to the wealthy and corporations while adding to the national debt.
The Beatle song, "Eleanor Rigby," asked: “all the lonely people, where do they all come from … and where do they all belong.” Today, loneliness may be a characteristic mark of the 21st century due, in part, to Covid-19. Loneliness is a curtain that has swooped down on the world in the guise of Covid-19. People globally feel cut off from nature, from themselves, from their neighbors, and from God or their Transcendent Anchor.
It seems that Covid-19 reminded us of the words of William Butler Yeats, in his poem, The Second Coming: “things fall apart and the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” World-wide, billions are depressed, married or unmarried couples are breaking up, and domestic violence is on the rise. Sad to say, in recent months multiple women in Japan have taken their own lives.
About 25 percent of Americans live by themselves. Millions are senior citizens who were already lonely before Covid-19 was on the horizon. Chronically lonely people have more accidents, have high blood pressure, dementia, and have lowered resistance to diseases. In short, it’s no exaggeration to call loneliness “a killer.”
Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Harvard, did a longitudinal study of 724 men over a 70-year period. He concluded that close relationships are very important for one’s happiness. Close friendships are more important for one’s physical and mental health than are fame and marriage.
In Great Britain, former Prime Minister Theresa May created a “minister of loneliness” for her cabinet on January 17, 2018. This appointment marks a landmark in studies dealing with the importance of friendship. (See Jafar Mahallati, Friendship In Islamic Ethics And World Politics, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2020, p. 242).
Perhaps President-Elect Joe Biden should have a special unit in the Department of Health and Human Services to work on dealing with the problem of loneliness since this is such an important issue in the lives of millions of Americans, particularly for the elderly.
In sum, friendship melts self-centeredness since close relationships are essential to one’s overall health. Happy is the person who has close friendships!
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.