Writing the Distance: Meezie Hermansen

The Covid 19 pandemic is isolating Alaskan writers. We can no longer attend workshops or public readings. The coffee bars where we met with other writers are closed. To bridge these physical gaps, 49 Writers is providing this on-line forum for Alaskans writing the distance. Today’s dispatch and photograph are provided by Meezie Hermansen.

Dispatch From The Homestead

A day like any other, so ordinary it veiled reality in a cloak of routine, and we failed to perceive the world had changed. News crept in from a faraway place and we tried to shrug it off as it was similar to several outbreaks in recent years that failed to impact us. This one would be different, but we didn’t know that in the beginning. We did not know a place unfamiliar to most of us would transform into a name never to be forgotten. Wuhan.

Media and social media became saturated with ever climbing statistics. Some of us panicked. Some of us blew it off. Most of us were somewhere in the middle, trying to decide what was overreaction and what was under. And the statistics grew. Number of cases. Number of countries. Number of deaths.

There is a funny thing about statistics. They distill lives into numbers. Warm heartbeats into cold facts. They allow us a comfortable distance from uncomfortable truths.

I wander outside at the homestead and hear chickadees cheeping. The snow is melting. The long cold winter finally loosens its grip, and these birds appear jubilant over the arrival of spring. To my eyes, the world is the same. My heart knows it is not.

Alaska just lost its first resident to the virus. He was in Washington state at the time. In the article’s comments, many said it shouldn’t count as he wasn’t in Alaska. Some said he probably wasn’t really an Alaskan. Some accused the media of fear-mongering and misleading people since he died out of state, a fact included in the article’s lead in. Finally the gentleman’s son commented, explaining his dad traveled to Washington for medical care, contracted COVID in the hospital, and passed away.

Here is the thing — do the circumstances matter? He was not simply a statistic. He was not only the first Alaskan lost to this pandemic. He was a man. A father. His place of residence does not affect his worth.

A few months ago, while checking for an update on the search for men missing after a fishing vessel sank, I stumbled upon a post by someone who works with a radical environmentalist group in Seattle. He was rejoicing at the loss of lives in this maritime tragedy because their worldview differed from his own. When someone questioned him, he replied, “We need less humans on this planet.”

I think of him now, both because of how hard Seattle was hit by this virus and because of his opinions. I think of the comments to the article I read. Is this what our society has become? Do the lives of those with opposing views hold less value? And do those who reside elsewhere matter less? I refuse to believe this is a majority opinion. There are so many out there doing good things, looking out for others, and most will never make a headline.

These are scary times. Do not let the statistics overwhelm you. Neither let them harden you. Behind every statistic is a human life. Behind every number is a human heart. Stay safe, my friends. Stay strong. And stay kind. And to Chris in Seattle, whoever you are, these same wishes go out to you as well.

Meezie Hermansen is a small animal veterinarian and lifelong Cook Inlet set netter. She resides on the Kenai Peninsula.

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