Who’ll write a ‘Gone With the Wind’ for this Lost Cause?
By Tom Baxter
At the website sorryantivaxxer.com, you can scroll through page after page of entries about people who scoffed at vaccinations and masks, even the existence of COVID-19, and then were stricken.
A few of these you may have read about: the city councilman in Texas who mocked vaccines on Facebook until five days before his death, the deceased radio preacher in Colorado who once read a list of AIDS victims on his show as “Another One Bites the Dust” played in the background, or the anti-vaxx cartoonist in Montana who’s decided to ride out his case at home.
Mostly, though, these are people — nurses, state troopers, rock band drummers, politicians’ wives, a former death row inmate who’d been exonerated by DNA evidence — who shared their skepticism within much smaller online circles than the outspoken radio hosts and anti-mask activists. Some were militant in their beliefs. Others were just hesitant about getting the shot and generally distrustful of government. Some just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
The stories on the website seem to check out, but its name is misleading. There are people who had deathbed conversions and urged their family and friends to get the shot. But there are many more, like the woman from Ringgold who was posting anti-vaxx messages hours before her death, who weren’t sorry at all. Even after the death of a loved one, or on their own deathbeds, many clung to the same beliefs they espoused in life. It is a dangerous misconception to believe that much gets resolved by the deaths of zealots.
The only person from this list I will quote by name, because of the piercing honesty of his words, is Scooter Ward, an HVAC repairman and staunch anti-vaxxer from Vicksburg, MS, who died last month. He was “still not screaming” for people to mask up or get vaccinated, he wrote from his deathbed, but as for his own survival he suspected he’d “found my Kryptonite.”
“I’m not in any pain except laying here on my back going insane. I’ve always thought of (myself as) one who would go out on their shield not laying on their back not being able to get enough air,” he wrote. “I still haven’t given up. I’m just at the point to give me life or death. I wasn’t built to just lay here.”
What’s most striking about this collection of the dead, once you’ve gotten past the mere politics, is the number of children left without one or both of their parents. It’s not uncommon for the parents’ death notices to announce GoFundMe campaigns to pay for the funeral expenses. That is the pain from all this that will linger far longer than the headlines about masks and shots.
This raises a very complicated question: How will the pandemic be remembered — or will it? More people died from the 1918 Spanish flu than in World War I, but it was the war which generated the books, the statues and the national days of commemoration. This pandemic is different because of the passionate divisions it enflamed, but our children will determine how and if it’s remembered, not us.
The top-end estimate for the number of Georgians killed in the Civil War is about 25,000. COVID-19 deaths in the state have reached that level, and deaths are still being reported at more than 100 a day. But who’s going to write a “Gone With the Wind” about the Lost Cause which Scooter Ward represented? He was among many patriotic and religious Americans who have imagined heroically giving their all for their country. They weren’t built “to just lay here,” but that is the sad end this epic story has led to.
One way in which families have traditionally dealt with overwhelming trauma over time is to erase the memory entirely or attempt to do so. That will be the case among many of the children who have lost parents in the pandemic, especially in families where the discussions are complicated by the beliefs of the departed. But it’s from among this cohort of survivors that may ultimately arise the story-teller who writes the novel or the script that gives this story, still developing as the nation passes 700,000 dead, a shape and coherence we can’t see yet.