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Opinion | The empty chair

“American’s will gather, and where a loved one once sat, there will be an empty chair.”

Hands of an elderly single man sitting alone at a table with Christmas cookies, coffee and festive decoration next to an empty chair, lonely holidays during the croronavirus pandemic or after a loss, selected focus

An end to the scourge of the 21st Century may be in sight, but for those sick and suffering, help will not come soon enough. And then there are the empty chairs that will mark this holiday season.

Hundreds of thousands have died due to the ravages of COVID-19, yet some have callously politicized the virus for political and personal gain.

Over 300,000 individuals in our nation will be absent when their families gather for Christmas and other year-end holiday celebrations. Here in Alabama, nearly 5,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents will be missing forever.

What does it say about us as a people that many of our elected leaders, family members and neighbors still refuse to acknowledge the deadly consequences of a virus that is killing thousands daily nationwide?

COVID-19 is a sightless killer that murders without conscience, and yet some won’t even accept that a life-robber is among us.

Oh, death, where is thy sting?

Death not only steals a person’s life, but it also leaves a lasting hole in the lives of those left behind, an emptiness that can never be filled.

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The very essence of life is a mystery. Yes, we know much about the body, less about the mind, but what is life’s crux?

Religion offers meaning, but few denominations can fully agree on much. Philosophy proposes answers, but it too is wanting.

Perhaps the most startling revelation about life is how short it actually is. Maybe the saying “make hay while the sun shines” is less of an admonition to get to work and more of a warning that the workday is short.

It’s said that an individual who plants a tree knowing that they will never enjoy its shade is someone who understands life. By that thinking, those who only live for momentary personal rewards are those most ignorant of life’s purpose.

We can forgive children for their selfish indulgences, but should we do the same for adults?

Alabama is a decidedly pro-life state, where the majority says that every life is sacred, each life precious. But is life only sacred when it’s in the womb? Isn’t all life precious?

A transliteration of the Greek word soul in the biblical text is psuché, which literally means breath of life. Most scholars believe it refers to the individual’s uniqueness, a sort of DNA of the soul.

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On a fundamental level, politics is a means to order society so that we can live a peaceful and hopefully prosperous life within the confines of a social contract. That certainly is the principle underpinning the U.S. Constitution.

After nearly a year of sickness, death and economic collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many in our state and nation are still divided over the reality of the coronavirus. Even though its devastating effects are present everywhere, some, it seems, have fallen under a Mephistophelian spell.

Add to coronavirus denial a refusal by some to accept the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and the nation is being undermined in a devil’s bargain. A Republic without commonly accepted laws is not a Republic; it’s a nation in chaos where lies erode the very pillars on which our country is built.

The government, beyond throwing money at the pandemic, has offered little in the way of leadership. Through rapidly developed vaccines, scientists are providing a solution that optimistically will restore normalcy and some modicum of sanity.

More American lives have been lost to COVID-19 than all the American battle deaths in World War II. Unlike World War II, which lasted nearly four years after America entered the war, COVID has been with us for less than 12 months. And unlike World War II, there is no universal commitment to fighting for every life, no matter the personal sacrifice, and there is no sense of national mourning.

Along the way, some of our fellow citizens have abandoned decency, choosing instead to wallow in a mire of conspiracy, grievance, and hatred where bullying, falsehoods, and temper tantrums have disoriented our shared moral compass. We can recover, but perhaps a great awakening is needed.

Truth and justice never change; each is eternal. What does evolve is how truth and justice are recognized and meted out among our people. Making our nation great again is not achieved by returning to some distant, undefined point in the past but by charting a course toward a more inclusive and equitable future. We can get there together because no one can make the journey alone.

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During this season of thanks and giving, tens of thousands of Americans will gather, and where a loved one once sat, there will be an empty chair — sometimes a few.

We could have done better.

Every year, in Jewish tradition, those who join around the Passover Seder table retell the story of Jewish enslavement and redemption.

What stories will we tell this year? The empty chair?

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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