Today Canada is grieving for thirteen year-old Emily Victoria Viegas, the youngest Canadian to succumb to the corona virus. Local Mayor Patrick Browne said, “As a parent, I am at a loss for words.” And in moments such as these, words do fail us.
In its news feed this morning, CNN reported on the dire situation in India and then commented on the surge in Canada. The horror of those wrenching scenes of despair truly are beyond words. However did we get here? I was thinking back to March of last year when we were all trying to wrap our tongues around COVID-19 and in half disbelief, making bad puns about Mexican beer.
As a person who lives and dies by the written word, I follow the announcements each year by the Oxford Dictionary and Merriam-Webster of phrases that are trending or new words that have entered our lexicon. Sometimes old words add new meanings. In that category for 2021, long haulers made the list as did pod and bubble. They missed ‘zooming’ but it is in my own inventory. And mute, unmute. Social distancing, super spreader, flatten the curve … covidiots. Doom scrolling, sleep hygiene. Quarantini. And who could forget “pivot.” “Hard pass” for those of us who would like to blot out the past year altogether.
And then there are the medical terms. According Emily Brewster, a senior editor from Merriam-Webster “COVID-19” itself, was the fastest word ever to enter the language. “It was instantly everywhere.” Then there was PPE, mRNA technology… and now we are speaking variants: B.1.1.7, B.220.127.116.11, P.1, and now L352R and E484K – the so-called Eeek factor.
But at the end of the day, it comes down to one little girl. A baby in New York. A grandmother in – wait for it — LTC. How do we express our grief, our pain? In accepting her Oscar the other night Frances McDormand said, “My voice is in my sword. We know the sword is our work and I like work.” Well, I don’t buy it. Words are my work. But in moments such as these, I am forced to acknowledge that words are just abstractions for something so profound it defies all. And in the end, they are just words mumbled in sorrow.