What Will Your One Line Be?

Reflections on today’s front page of The New York Times memorializing 100,000 lives lost to COVID-19.

Screenshot of The New York Times front page, 5/24/2020

I contemplated just leaving the photo of today’s New York Times front page up there without any words because, honestly? If you’re remotely close to anything resembling a decent human being, that list of names should render you speechless while feeling a somersault of emotions. That’s my reaction, anyway.

Of course, the first person I thought of — and looked for, even though I know his name isn’t there — is my father-in-law. My understanding is that the names listed are compiled from newspaper obituaries. Well, there isn’t an official newspaper obituary for my father-in-law. You know how much those damn things cost for a few lines? It’s criminal, really. And I believe that we’ll never know officially if his death was counted among those occurring at Pennsylvania’s nursing homes because apparently people disagree on the data and fingers are being pointed and whatever, blah, blah, blah.

All I know is what I wrote a month ago: behind the numbers are the names. The lives lived. The people loved.


Which is what makes today’s New York Times even more powerful. Because even though it looks like there are 100,000 names on that front page — every soul gone to this pandemic — there are only 1,000. A mere fraction of those we’ve lost. Only 1,000. Gives another meaning to the one percent.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what my father-in-law’s one line descriptor would say had his name been included.

Loved baseball and all Philadelphia sports.

Enjoyed his Tastykake Krimpets and Pringles.

Could hit a baseball farther than anyone.

Sang Red River Valley to his grandchildren.

Played impromptu baseball games with relatives at family gatherings.

Managed men’s clothing stores in the Philadelphia area.

Curated an extensive collection of baseball cards.

Always the first person on the dance floor and the last to leave.

The reality is that even though he was one of a kind — “Philly special,” as one friend aptly put it — my father-in-law was one in 100,000. And counting. But more importantly, today’s New York Times front page begs the question for all of us: what will your one line be? If we’re lucky, as indicated by my personal list of potential one-liners for my father-in-law, we’ll end up with several possibilities that our loved ones can take as a remembrance.

That’s one of the many takeaways, I think, from this crisis. What we do with our lives and how we live it matters.

Because in the end, it all comes down to one line.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy these. More of my writing can be found at www.melissafirman.com

Writes about books, GenX, politics, life. Currently working on a memoir. www.melissafirman.com

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