The Breath of Life
The LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life's breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. (Genesis 2:7, Common English Bible)
Over the past months we have all learned of the terrible consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but relatively few have witnessed or described the horror of dying from this disease. In the end, victims suffocate as less and less oxygen is available to their blood, despite ventilators and all the rest that medicine brings to bear. It will likely be many months before a vaccine is developed, and in the meantime many thousands more will die. This past weekend, we passed the 100,000 mark of COVID-19 deaths in this country. We all want to be inoculated against losing our breath — the breath of life — seeing our life slip away, crying out, perhaps, for our mothers to save us.
The awful reality of this pandemic is amplified when one considers how differentially our nation’s populations suffer under its murderous grip, signaling again just how far from ideal are our health-care system, our social infrastructure, our commitment to equality, and, I’m afraid, our conception of what it means to be human. The fact that black people are more than twice as likely as white people to die from COVID-19 in this country is an appalling reminder of where we are, and where we need to be, in America.
But now we see, of course, another appalling reminder of where we are in this nation, as again we witness the senseless terror of yet another person killed because he is a black man. George Floyd lost the breath of life not over days, but over minutes. Starved of oxygen just the same, under the knee of a white law enforcement officer, he called out for his mother too, but to no avail, as his life was stolen away. This is an atrocity; there’s no justification, no excuse. The question now is: Will there be justice?
For all members of our community who feel and have felt the weight of that knee upon them, sometimes for decades, and sometimes right here on our campus, we are with you. We call out those who deny the dignity, the freedom and the peace of others. And to all of the Bucknell community: It is more important now than ever that we work diligently to do what we can, where we can, to end this terrible scourge, this stain on the fabric of our nation. If education is not the answer, then what is? What are we otherwise doing here?
A few days ago I was sitting in the MLK Garden behind Vaughan Literature as my two little boys were riding their bicycles around the Malesardi Quadrangle. Staring at the bust of Edward Brawley, Bucknell’s first African American graduate, I read again and again Dr. King’s quote on the pedestal, which states that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We have to do better. As an institution, as a community and as a nation. We must do better. And the onus is on us to transform the institution, the community and the nation. Each of us bears that responsibility differently, but our collective investment is what a community requires. I look forward to the days when we are back together, here, and can work together to build that better community, that better nation and that better Bucknell.