It’s all in the numbers

19 Sep 2021 by Rev Dr John Squires in: Letters, Thoughts, News

It’s all in the numbers

From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing

If you are anything like me, you will have found yourself arranging daily life around the numbers. The first number is 11:00. That’s when the NSW Government and Health Department give their press conference, reporting a swag of daily numbers relevant to NSW. Then, the second number is 11:45. That, of course, is when the ACT Government and their Health Department give their press conference, reporting a swag of daily numbers relevant to the ACT

Both press conferences contain reports of what has now become the familiar litany of numbers: the number of vaccinations, the number of infectious cases, the number of hospitalisations, people in ICU, people on ventilators. And one more number: the number of deaths.

Those earlier numbers are large. Thousands of people are being vaccinated every day. Associated with that is the percentage number: percentage of people over 16 with first vaccinations; percentage of people over 16 with first vaccinations. Those numbers, of course, relate to the National Plan for exiting from lockdown—a plan that we have been watching being debated, disputed, and disrupted, before our very eyes.

And hundreds of people are being infected. Even though we have heard the mantra, repeated for many weeks now, that the numbers that matter aren’t the case numbers—still, those numbers resonate loudly in our consciousness. In NSW: 919. 1,029. 1,288. 1,431. 1,480. 1,552. 1,603. (Yes, I confess: I have been keeping a record for some weeks, now—charting the inevitable and inexorable rise of numbers.) In the ACT, a more modest set of numbers, as befits the much smaller population—but still, numbers that concern. 9. 14. 21. 26. 18. 15. 24. 13. 22.

In the midst of all of these numbers, there has been a steady increase of numbers, doubling or worse over the period that I have kept track daily: hospitalisations in NSW (from 642 to 1241), people in ICU (from 113 to 234), and those on a ventilator (from 40 to 108).

But the number that gives me pause for thought, each day, is actually the smallest number. 2. 3. 6. 7. 12. 3. 8. 9. 2. 12. That’s in NSW. Fortunately, in the ACT, the number has remained at 0. But look at the accumulation in NSW. Back in June, when the breach occurred that set off this current outbreak of COVID-19, there had been 54 deaths in NSW (and three in the ACT). Now, there are 252 deaths, cumulatively, in NSW. That’s almost 200 deaths, in 66 days. Three a day. Each day. Every day.

My thoughts turn outwards from the numbers—bare statistics, harsh, unflinching—to the people. For each person who has died, there’s is a grieving family. Perhaps a partner: perhaps some siblings, some children, even some grandchildren, all caught in deep, profound grief. In some cases, I suspect, there are parents, mourning the loss of their adult child. And in every case, surely, there must be neighbours, companions, loved ones, lifelong friends, who themselves are grieving.

I think about this long, thick stream of grief that is wending its way through our society at these times, curling back on itself, seeping into the gaps between people and their loved ones. I ponder the frustrations of not being able to meet up in person with friends, colleagues, neighbours, the anxiety about not being able to “get back to normal” any time soon, the sense of loneliness that some are feeling at this time. They are all real feelings, real emotions. But then I go back to that thick, impenetrable fog of grief, billowing through suburbs and towns, wrapping so many in unconsolable sorrow. So many dead. So much grief. Such deep lamenting.

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” (Hab 1:2) “What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (Eccles 1:3–4). “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2:17). “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps 10:1). “O God, why do you cast us off forever?” (Ps 74:1).

Deep lamenting is not alien to the faith we hold. Deep lamenting is articulated in scripture. Deep lamenting takes us to the heart of who we are, as people made in the image of God, sharing the deep compassion and fiery zeal for justice that is at the heart of God. May we sense that lamenting, from those we do not know, but whom we know to be caught in grief. May we reach out from our hearts to their hearts, in prayerful compassion. May they know peace from those near to them. May we who are afar pray for their peace.