How Coronavirus Has Changed the Way People Die | Crooked Media
Pod Save America Live NYC & Boston guest hosts just announced! Get Tickets Pod Save America Live NYC & Boston guest hosts just announced! Get Tickets
September 18, 2020
Unholier Than Thou
How Coronavirus Has Changed the Way People Die

In This Episode

As the death toll from the coronavirus reaches 200,000 in the United States, Phill talks to two chaplains about the difficulty of dying in isolation. Halle Diecidue and Stephanie Ramos have spent the last months helping individuals plan their deaths during a most unusual time—and without the usual coping mechanisms that we’re used to in end-of-life care. Before speaking to the chaplains, Phill talks to political strategist Zara Rahim about the revisionist history of the legacy of Islamophobia post-9/11.

 

Transcript

 

[ad]

 

Phillip Picardi: From Crooked Media, This is Unholier Than Thou. I’m your host, Phillip Picardi. Today, we have a special, if somber episode prepared honoring the over 200,000 American lives lost to the coronavirus pandemic. But before we get there, let’s take a quick moment to discuss a story that’s about another kind of American tragedy. On Friday, September 11th, the New York Times Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman tweeted a seriously alarming piece of revisionist history, “overall, Americans took 9/11 pretty calmly” he wrote, “notably, there wasn’t a mass outbreak of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence which could all too easily have happened. While George W. Bush was a terrible president, to his credit, he tried to calm prejudice, not feed it.” As you might expect, Krugman was immediately corrected by what felt like all of Twitter. In just four days, nearly 36,000 people responded to his comment, sharing their own accounts of the horrifying rise of Islamophobia that followed the attacks on September 11. One such person was my friend, Zara Rahim, a communications and political strategist from New York, who noted that in the aftermath of the tragedy, her mosque was burnt down. Her tweet went viral in a matter of hours.

 

Phillip Picardi: Zara, thank you so much for joining me today.

 

Zara Rahim: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

 

Phillip Picardi: Zara, I’m really sorry to hear that your mosque burnt down after 9/11. Can you tell me a little bit about what happened and how you knew the attack was a hate crime?

 

Zara Rahim: Sure. I definitely was not trying to go viral, I think, which is important to note, because my statement was simply my mosque burned down. So it wasn’t really saying anything too prolific other than the truth. And so the mosque that I was referring to was the mosque that I grew up closest to in Port St. Lucie, Florida. And in this incident, the gentleman who burned the mosque down or, you know, attempted to burn the entire thing down was somebody who is doing so in honor of the anniversary of 9/11. And so, you know, I think that prior to that, after 9/11, so many of our lives changed. And Paul Krugman’s tweet, which is the one that you’re referring to, I just couldn’t believe what he was saying and also how out of touch and ahistorical it was. And so, yeah.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah. I know his tweet was asinine, as are many tweets from New York Times Op-Ed writers. I don’t know what is going on over there. But you also called his tweet, white revisionism. And I think that’s an important distinction that you made, right. This is ahistorical, but it’s specifically, it’s rewriting history from the perspective of a white point of view. What did white people miss from the aftermath of September 11th that they wouldn’t have understood if they don’t have Muslim people who are in their neighborhoods, their communities, their networks?

 

Zara Rahim: Yeah, I think what was most interesting about what he said, I think it gave everybody, I think that has any sort of marginalized identity, just a reminder of how much it is in our lives that we face that comes from a white, cis, hetero lens. White revisionism to me is simply when a white person claims something as the truth and because of their identity and who they are, there really is no pushback. And I think that is what is really the difference between 9/11, when we didn’t have Internet culture and we didn’t have social media to now, when you say something that crazy and out of pocket, that you’re like, wait a second, like were you living in the same world that I lived in? Because, it’s wild. And so, you know, the responses to his tweet, I think were really a profound example of how much and for how long people have been getting away with this, and that we really shouldn’t allow that to happen anymore.

 

Phillip Picardi: Obviously it’s frustrating to see prominent journalists like Krugman, you know, erase these experiments, revise history in this way, especially working for the paper of record, so to speak. But you worked for political outreach, specifically for the Muslim community, for Hillary Clinton. And I’m wondering, you know, from your vantage point, what are people, journalists, political candidates getting wrong right now about outreach to and coverage of Muslim people?

 

Zara Rahim: You know, from since 2001 and even before then, politicians have only spoken to Muslim Americans through the lens of security. And it is, Muslims are good people. Muslims help the FBI, Muslims, you know, were you know the the greatest asset that the CIA had after 9/11. But it, again, reflects a very white lens. And I think that time and time, every four years, particularly in presidential elections and general elections, we see this very specific lens, which is like you deserve all of the rights of Americans. And it’s like, wait, who are Americans? They’re talking about white people. And so, you know, I just wish people would acknowledge, again, the fact that Muslims are not a monolith. They’re Black, they’re queer, they’re converts, they’re white, they’re Asian, they are trans, there are many people that make up this community of, by the way, you know, billions around the world and millions here in this country. That if they took more time to focus and realize that they care about health care, education, the economy just as much as the next guy, then then I think it would make a massive, massive difference for sure.

 

Phillip Picardi: In closing, I’m wondering what advice you might offer for newsrooms to not completely piss off and misrepresent Muslim people, like Paul Krugman and The New York Times did.

 

Zara Rahim: Journalists, you write what you know and when you don’t know, you ask questions. And I think that it is so imperative that we have a real discussion and continue to have a real discussion about who are the people who are telling our stories and carrying our water, who are the people who are editing these stories? Who are the people who are making sure that the question that might not be at the forefront of your mind, because it is not your lived experience, has the opportunity to tell that story. And so that’s all we can hope for. And, you know, there are more good journalists than bad journalists and, but not all of them have Nobel Prizes. So, you know, I leave you with that. But, yeah, I’m not, I’m not sure. I just, I think I hope people don’t try to impose something that they don’t know, for nothing.

 

Phillip Picardi: Zara, thank you so much for your candor and sharing with us today. I really appreciate it.

 

Zara Rahim: Thank you so much.

 

Phillip Picardi: Now for today’s big story: the United States reached a milestone we once thought was unimaginable, 200,000 people dead from the coronavirus. It has been a year filled with death. First, the shock of it, and then the shock of how we all got used to it. We’ve already heard a lot from the doctors battling the front lines of this pandemic, so this week we wanted to chat with some of the other hospital workers who have seen the worst of the coronavirus. Hospital chaplains quite literally help people understand and plan their deaths. They also help explain the grieving process to loved ones and family members. Halle Diecidue has been a chaplain for over 20 years, but they say nothing could have prepared them for the way their job would change once the pandemic hit.

 

Phillip Picardi: Halle, thanks for joining us. In a non pandemic world, before the coronavirus, what was your day to day like in hospitals or in these in these facilities?

 

Halle Diecidue: So I would visit someone who was either struggling or searching, yearning, wanting to explore, do a life review. Sometimes I would visit someone who was dying, sometimes I would help navigate a difficult family visit. Other parts of my day, I lead services in our facility. That’s pre-pandemic.

 

Phillip Picardi: Now, I understand that your job, especially contending with death and helping people understand their beliefs around death, must have gotten a lot harder when the pandemic hit. Can you tell me, particularly in the early days of the coronavirus, how your job, as you knew it came to change?

 

Halle Diecidue: You know, there’s generally some preparation for a visit and for what I’m going to offer someone or how I’m going to be with someone, and the pandemic really threw that out the window because no one knew what we were heading into. No one knew how the disease was going to manifest in our people or in any people. Also there was this veneer of fear over everything. So where someone can call on me for a visit because they want to discuss death or they want to discuss how they see themselves living until the end of their life, there’s not always a fear. People don’t go into death all the time afraid. But people do go into a pandemic afraid. And so this overlay of fear was not just the people who were sick, it was the people who were afraid of getting sick. It was the staff. It was everybody.

 

Phillip Picardi: And on top of that layer of fear, there’s also the physical manifestation of fear. I know there are barriers now between you and patients that in the past you may very well have reached to touch her hold. And now that’s ill advised. So how has PPE transformed your interactions with your patients?

 

Halle Diecidue: It was really, it was horrible. I have to say. I never realized how much I rely on touch, even if it’s a hand on a shoulder or leaning against the bed and having a real physical presence, using my physicality as the comforting presence. How I used my body and my facial expressions, my smile, the softening of my cheeks to convey a calm with people. I wasn’t able to do that because I was in three layers of plastic and two pairs of gloves and two masks that covered all but my eyes. Then there was a face shield and so there was this weird reflection between the face shield and my glasses. And then the head covering. And so I felt very disconnected from my body, from being present, and then the person in the bed couldn’t relate to me as a person. So all of that changed

 

Phillip Picardi: And it also changed for the families of the people who had loved ones in the hospital who were ostensibly very sick with coronavirus or dying of coronavirus. Did you interact with many of these families? Did you hear from them?

 

Halle Diecidue: So we got a stack of iPads and we were on the phones with family members. We were facilitating Face Time and Zoom with our patients, between our patients and their families. And that was really uncharted territory.

 

Phillip Picardi: How do you mean?

 

Halle Diecidue: On a screen, it sounds sort of simplistic, but it’s two dimensional, so there’s no reaching out to the person from the screen. And my people are old and talking to a screen is not anywhere in their schema. There’s nothing familiar about that to them. You know, my four year old is a digital native, but, but these hundred-year olds are not. And so they’re trying to come to grips with this feeling very sick and being very sick and being attended to by these giant baked potatoes and—

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. And buy baked potatoes, I’m assuming you’re referring to the hazmat suits you all are wearing, correct?

 

Halle Diecidue: Right. Yeah, but we were all saying, yes, you know what a baked potato feels like because the sweat is running down your back and you’re, you know, overheating and everything is steaming up. But we didn’t look like people to them.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. So it removes the humanity of your work.

 

Halle Diecidue: Yes. Yes.

 

Phillip Picardi: Well, I understand that there’s one story of a Catholic patient that seems to have stayed with you and maybe is an example of how you as a chaplain really worked to preserve the humanity of this moment. Can you tell me a little bit about that patient and that experience?

 

Halle Diecidue: So one of our first patients that we got from the outside that had COVID was actually retired Catholic priest and he was dying, and we had, the protocol was that nobody was coming in, so even the diocese was not sending in priests to do the the sacrament of the sick. Me being Jewish, I, I’m not qualified to do the sacrament of the sick. But we tried to meet with him where he was and where we were offering the best we could. Several of our nurses are Catholic, so I gathered them, like you said, in keeping with our humanity we were connecting as spiritual beings, offering what comfort and love we could. And the doctor on the case called, using her own cell phone, called his sister. And we asked her to share stories about him. And she had written a goodbye to him at the suggestion of the doctor. She read her goodbye to him and I asked him if he had anything to say to his sister and he said: goodbye Ann. She said he was always a man of few words, and so we laughed and we, you know, we held one another and I asked his sister if she might lead us in some of his favorite prayers. And I think it was the first time she was asked to lead. It was always him leading. He’s a priest. And he smiled and sort of relaxed into the bed. And she recited some of the prayers that are very familiar for Catholics, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. And our staff are nurses and nursing aides recited with her. And it was an incredible moment. It just brought us all to the same place. Where there wasn’t anything between us, separating us. It wasn’t the PPE, even though, there was. And there wasn’t the difference of religion, even though there was. And there wasn’t the difference of our jobs. So it was really, it transcended everything in that moment.

 

Phillip Picardi: One of the things that made the coronavirus pandemic so difficult in particular, was the feeling that many families had that their loved ones were effectively dying alone because the wards were closed off to outside visitors. And I know that that must have heightened the importance of your job during this moment. But I wonder, you know, there’s nothing worse than the thought of your mother, your sibling, your loved one, your spouse dying in solitude, right? That’s something that all of us, for better or for worse, come to fear. Do you think, as a chaplain who has witnessed and been present for so much death, do you think that any of us ever die alone? Do you think that your patients died alone?

 

Halle Diecidue: I don’t. And I actually, there was an article written that said something about the number of deaths we had, and how all those people died alone. And I responded with a letter to our CEO and I said, these people in our care, we had people who died of COVID and we had people who died of old age. It’s what we do. And they died at the end of a life well lived. And they were loved and cared for by their families, and they were loved and cared for by us. Because you can’t do this job, you can’t be in this field if you don’t open your hearts and love people. And I feel like no one was actually alone during this time, there was always someone by the bedside, there was always someone caring and loving.

 

Phillip Picardi: Hmm. I hate to be blunt or sound cynical, but I also want to be realistic. You know, this pandemic has in so many ways showcased the very worst of us, right? Our roadblocks in access to care, the way the virus disproportionately impacts specifically people of color, the way we value or devalue our so-called essential workers. And I guess, and I’m sorry to put this so plainly, but how do you know all of that and hold all of that, but also keep the faith that there is a higher being out there?

 

Halle Diecidue: That’s a great question. Some days I don’t know. It’s a great question because how do we keep the faith in the face of death every day? I work a lot with people with dementia and five minutes after I’ve been there, they don’t remember that I was there. And I can go see someone and they’ll stare right through me, and then when I leave the room, they’ll scream and scream. And did I make a difference? Why bother? Why bother to go into that room if they’re just going to forget that you were there for those five minutes? So it’s similar in the face of so much death, for me, it’s not an option not to do it. If I could be there for 100 people—it’s like that story of the little girl and on the seashore and she’s picking up starfish who she knows they’ll die if they’re out of the water and she’s tossing them back into the water, and this old man comes up to her and he says, What are you doing? The seashores loaded with these starfish, you can’t possibly save everyone, hundreds of thousands of them will die, you’re not making any kind of difference. And the little girl holds up the starfish in her hand and she tosses it out into the sea and she says, I made a difference for that one. So that’s how you have to see it. If I think about the 200,000, I’ll lose hope. But if I focus on the ones in front of me and do whatever I can, if I can affect those in front of me, then I’ve done something. Does that makes sense?

 

Phillip Picardi: It does. You know, on the other hand, I also I feel the ramifications of COVID continually impacting people who society needs to care for more, and it keeps making me wonder about, you know, if there is a higher power, then what the hell are they doing? You know? Because this virus is continually falling along socioeconomic and racial lines that feel extremely unjust. And so, you know, a big part of me, a big part of me is asking if God’s out there, then where the hell are they? You know?

 

Halle Diecidue: So I hear that. I hear that. But I also, I see COVID falling. And the ones that are being responded to are not the poor and the native and the people of color—that’s, that’s on humanity, not on God.

 

Phillip Picardi: Halle, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it.

 

Halle Diecidue: It was great talking to you.

 

Phillip Picardi: Up next, a chaplain who says family is the best medicine.

 

[ad break]

 

Phillip Picardi: Now back to the show. It sort of goes without saying that dealing with overwhelming amounts of death can be hard on the psyche. But what happens when you start to notice that many of the people who are dying also happen to look like you? Stephanie Ramos is a chaplain in Los Angeles, where Latino people are twice as likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts. Even though her work got harder, Stephanie insists she never lost her faith.

 

Phillip Picardi: Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Stephanie Ramos: Oh, thank you.

 

Phillip Picardi: I’m wondering if you can start by explaining how your day-to-day work as a chaplain changed when COVID-19 started to hit Los Angeles.

 

Stephanie Ramos: You know, many months ago, it started off that I heard that somewhere in China, something was going on. And then it seemed to move across Europe to Italy and to London, and then it seemed to cross the ocean, go into New York. And next thing I knew, it was on the other side of the wall here. And that’s when, of course, we were preparing. We have a good administrative team here and medical staff and we began to prepare. And then you begin, because it was around us so we had to begin to wear masks and PPE, get accustomed to PPE. And then also there was a change. There was a protocol in visitors coming in, and where even those who were dying no longer had their loved ones at the bedside. Sometimes it was through Face Time or sometimes it was outside of the glass, but it was only one person. And then, of course, there was the change for myself in that I couldn’t no longer go in these rooms, you know, to talk to the patients. But instead, I was now doing a tele-chaplaincy to those patients I was able to talk to and then moving out towards tele-chaplaincy to their families. So things have changed, drastically.

 

Phillip Picardi: Wow. And do you feel like that impacted the quality of your interactions with your patients?

 

Stephanie Ramos: Yes, because I needed to find other ways, you know, and tuning in my ear when I was going to the chaplaincy and to be present to them, because that’s what our journey is as a chaplain, to accompany them in their sacred stories.

 

Phillip Picardi: Do you feel like touch and physical comfort is a, is a key part of chaplaincy? Is that something that you often make a part of your practice?

 

Stephanie Ramos: Oh, yes. It’s very important, you know, to hold their hand and just be present, the eye contact. I always have said, you know, the best medicine is always family presence to help them to feel better. But right now they’re not getting that right.

 

Phillip Picardi: I also imagine it makes your job a lot harder, the fact that these people, many of them feel like they are, you know, for lack of a better phrase, dying alone, right? And that’s a very human fear, is the thought of dying alone or without people, you know, especially your loved ones around you. How are you helping people cope with that reality during this time?

 

Stephanie Ramos: You know, it’s not even praying with them unless, of course, they want prayer, but it’s just listening to where their heart is in the sacred story and just being present to them. You know, I’ve had where a patient, she didn’t have COVID, but it was her birthday. So she was a Latina. So I came in with my phone singing Mananitas, bringing her some flowers to help celebrate her day to bring her a smile. But there’s constant stories that they share with you, their concerns about their family, you know, how they’re going to get supported. You know, there were some of them, you know, responsibilities that they have, supporting their families and they can’t support them because they don’t have jobs. And, you know, even some of our nursing staff are taking double shifts because many of their family members are no longer working. So it isn’t just the patients, but it’s also listening to the medical staff and those around us.

 

Phillip Picardi: Sure. I know you’ve seen a lot of COVID patients, but I understand there was a particular case of a pregnant woman that has really stuck with you. Can you tell me a little bit about her?

 

Stephanie Ramos: Well, she came in as a high risk. She was pregnant, she’s very high stressed. And during the month I journeyed with her, she didn’t have COVID at the time, and her life just changed around being here. You know, she became more positive. She’d even color, she’d take her little walks that she could. And then came time when she had her baby and the baby was smaller so it had to stay here in the NICU. You and when the baby, you know, and mom was sent to a shelter with her family, to live, and it is there in that shelter that her family and others got COVID. And they were sent to one of those medical hotel hospitals and they had to stay there and she couldn’t pick up her baby. The baby had to stay here in the hospital for two weeks more.

 

Phillip Picardi: Oh, wow.

 

Stephanie Ramos: Yeah. That I would call her every other day to see how she was doing and to see how her family was doing, and then I check on the baby. But she had access to the nursing staff, you know, would tell her how the baby was doing. But just that connection, you know, she just, it was really hard on that family.

 

Phillip Picardi: But she was reunited with her baby, right?

 

Stephanie Ramos: Yes, she was! She was, yes.

 

Phillip Picardi: And how was that?

 

Stephanie Ramos: That was a beautiful moment, you know, for her to just hold her son in her arms again. Yes.

 

Phillip Picardi: That sounds really special.

 

Stephanie Ramos: But, you know, just communicating her between the hospital and myself, you know, kept her going.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. That’s a really hopeful story. And I love that one. But I also know that, you know, coronavirus has disproportionately impacted people of color. And The L.A. Times reported just a couple of months ago that Latino people are reportedly twice as likely as white people to contract the virus in Los Angeles County. You are a Latina woman. You told us you’re a proud Latina woman. I just am wondering what it’s been like for you to watch this unfold.

 

Stephanie Ramos: It’s been very tough. You know, I am the mother of six children and the grandmother of six children.

 

Phillip Picardi: Wow.

 

Stephanie Ramos: And my husband and I are in ministry, but my family was very concerned about me being here. And I’ve been told many times, there was a time it was almost daily, you know, why are you there? Make sure you take care of yourself. You know, it was just a constant. But they knew deep down and they told me that, you know, Mom, we know, we know you love what you do and for that reason, we want you to know that we support you in what you’re doing, but we just want to make sure you’re safe, you know? So when we had a situation here where one of our chaplains became COVID positive, you know, my first reaction was I need to get tested because I was near that person and I was tested and I was negative. But just in your heart, you just go, you know, my family! That was my first thought. Oh, my God, my family’s going to say, mom! But they are concerned, you know, and other friends are concerned, but they are also my support and very important for every chaplain and everyone, you need to have self care. You need to take care of yourself because, yes, you’re dealing with an emotional, great emotional situation every day. You know, I’ll go home and they’ll say, how is your day? And in my head I’ll rush through a lot of things I’ve gone through and I’ll just say it was OK. It’s OK. You know, because I know they couldn’t, a lot of people cannot handle what, some of the things that we go through here emotionally and what we see. You know, I have a very strong faith in God, and I always tell the patients, even when I come in, I said, you know, before I get in here, God’s already here, you know? And I’ve been thrown out of rooms. You know, people tell me to get out. They don’t want to see me. And I’ll say fine. And I’ll go back the next day and say hello, and they’ll want to just tell me everything. So it’s day by day,

 

Phillip Picardi: I guess, to be more pointed about the question, how do you square your faith in God with witnessing the disparities in health care that are impacting certain people in this country more than others?

 

Stephanie Ramos: You know, we’re interfaith here, and so I just, I understand, you know, what the news is reporting and how people of color are more susceptible to COVID, but I guess I just put everyone in one big basket and just go with my faith. And it’s sad to see, you know, what’s going on. I mean, I’ve had some dear friends, one just this week pass away of COVID.

 

Phillip Picardi: I’m so sorry.

 

Stephanie Ramos: And it’s, it’s painful to see them go. It’s just something that’s going on in the world right now. You know, the earth is hurting and, you know, I get a little upset, bent out of shape with people who tell me, you know, this isn’t real or what I see in the news, and they say, oh, no, this isn’t real. This is a joke. And I want to bring them and put them in front of the glass to see, you know, look this is a human being, you know, that’s suffering from this horrible virus that we don’t even understand yet.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah, my fiancé’s an emergency medicine doctor working in L.A. right now, and he says that when he can tell when some patients come in and they’re the patients who watch Fox News and he can see it in their eyes when they realize that they’ve been lied to, right? When they realize they are sick and that this pandemic is really happening around them, even though they may disagree with him, they may disagree with his equality and his rights, right, as a gay man, as a black man—but that he still would never wish this illness upon anyone. And that is a, it is a really tricky thing. Sometimes, I guess people need the front-row seat to see what’s happening.

 

Stephanie Ramos: Yeah. And it’s pretty tough.

 

Phillip Picardi: Yeah, I can imagine.

 

Stephanie Ramos: But, you know, we have a good medical staff here at LAC USC, good administration that are working all together. We’re working all together to get through this.

 

Phillip Picardi: I know that also your work is about explaining or helping people prepare for death, helping people get comfortable with death and making decisions around their own death. I guess to flip that a little bit, I’m wondering what being surrounded by death has taught you? That can be a spiritual question. It can it can be a literal question, however you want to interpret it.

 

Stephanie Ramos: Well, you know, since I was a child, my mother was the one who inspired me to do this. I tell her. She doesn’t believe me, but I tell her that. Because since I was a child, my mother would take me to hospital visits with her when maybe an aunt or an uncle or a friend was sick and then she’d make friends with the next person in the room, the other patient. And we come back and see that patient. And so I got very comfortable, and death was always a part of life. I had a cousin who was 18 and he had a brain tumor so we would go visit him on Sundays up in Ventura County and it was just talking to him or praying with him, but more just listening to him and what he was going through and how important life was for him. He did pass, but that moment impressed my life. And then as I’ve gone on, those who’ve I’ve loved and care for have passed away, you know, and their lives are important. My grandson passed away four years ago. He was—

 

Phillip Picardi: Oh, gosh.

 

Stephanie Ramos: He was born and he was ill and he lived 40 hours. And just to see in the hospital that we were at, I mean, I felt even the security guard was with us on this, in the hospital in Pasadena. But it just this, this compassion, you know, for a family who was losing their child. It was my daughter’s first son and they allowed about 30 of us, you know, my daughter, our side, and then my son-in-law’s side, to come together and to pray and to be present there in the hallway as my grandson passed. You know, I believe in my faith, you know, there’s everlasting life. Others may not believe that. But just to allow them to talk, you know, because when I come into the room, I, I say, you know, I’m here for your emotional support, not just your spiritual. Because some people, you know, they all have different backgrounds and I respect that, you know, I respect that. But I just want to listen to them because, yes, we’re all going to go. We know that. We’re all going to go.

 

Phillip Picardi: Right. We are unfortunately approaching a major milestone in America, one that many people believed was inconceivable at the beginning of this pandemic, which is that 200,000 people will soon be reported to have died of the coronavirus. And it is so important to find meaning so that we can all keep going, right? It’s important to find meaning in the lives and deaths of these people so that they didn’t die in vain. At the same time, this figure is so astonishing and it’s so heartbreaking, I just wonder how it is possible to keep the faith when this is our reality.

 

Stephanie Ramos: I just, I know my God is there, my God is present. And I don’t have answers, and it’s astounding of all these who are going, just like in the wars that have gone and n all the numbers that have passed. But we just hold tight, you know, and I tell people I don’t have the answer, but I’m here with you.

 

Phillip Picardi: Stephanie, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

 

Stephanie Ramos: No, thank you. It’s an honor.

 

Phillip Picardi: A lot of the themes the chaplains touched on today were about coping, finding peace and faith among so much death. This is profoundly noble, considering that many of the 200,000 deaths in our country were entirely preventable. If only we had a competent president or an administration that believed plain scientific fact. One of the most difficult parts of the pandemic, at least as I see it, is the numbness. When tragedy happens so constantly in such a drastic rate, we start to lose touch with the gravity of it altogether. And perhaps social distancing also caused us to lose our sense of connectedness, the reality that all of this is happening in our backyards and to our very own communities. So in this moment where isolation and loneliness can feel so acute, one of the positive things about faith is that it reminds us that we are connected. That’s the goal of the Blast, a coordinated effort across Jewish communities in the Washington, D.C. area to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year. Today kicks off the Holiday. And in a pre-pandemic world, Jewish people would gather together in a synagogue to sound the shofar, which is a cleaned-out ram’s horn. But this year, Rabbi Sarah Krinsky and her fellow rabbis have organized an outdoor synchronized blast of the shofar. Here she is explaining why blowing the shofar is so important.

 

[clip of Rabbi Sarah Krinsky] It’s a spiritual alarm clock, like it’s asking us to wake up to something, to something in ourselves or to something in the world. You know, when the shofar blows, I sort of say to myself, or it’s even more profound than that, I sort of hear a voice saying to me, you know, wake up, wake up. What is it in the world that I need to open up to or be more attentive to?

 

Phillip Picardi: The spiritual alarm clock celebrates the birth of the world, and also a day to reflect and renew. Thinking about new beginnings certainly feels like the only way we can continue to make it through.

 

Unholier than Thou is a Crooked Media production. Our producers are Adriana Cargill and Elisa Gutierrez, with production support from Alison Falzetta. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and our executive producers are Lyra Smith and Sara Geismer. Thanks for listening.