Here are a few statistics about North Dakota, just so you gain a bit more knowledge today – call it my public service, to educate America…
Anyway, North Dakota is about 71,000 square miles in size – larger than dozens of countries around the world. However, it is only the 19th largest state. But we have a lot of room to spread out up here, since we have the fourth least population, even with the oil boom, of about 760,000 people. When I have visited my family in Dallas/Fort Worth, population of over 6.2 million, you could fit North Dakota’s population 82 times in those cities’ limits. Even more, when you take our two largest cities – Fargo and Bismarck – they account for close to 250,000 people out of the 760,000. Like I said, there is plenty of room to move around in our state!
That’s why it was a bit of a sad pause, at least, to read this morning that in the last year, the death rate in North Dakota went up 26%. 26%. The actual number, granted, is pretty small, with only a normal death number of 6,600. But this year, it was closer to 8,300. That’s 1700 more people than “normal” who died in our state. And like I said, we don’t have a whole lot of folks to begin with, or many to spare.
I expect that around the country, many of these percentages have been repeated, often with way more actual numbers of dead – but when you figure that there are 9.7 persons per square mile in our state, this last year, deaths cleared out the equivalent population of 858 square miles – 175 more square miles than “usual.” It’s really a somber figure when you take time to think about it for a few minutes.
Of course, a huge piece of the blame goes to the coronavirus. And with a majority of our population consisting of older folks, who make up 16% of the population, a daily reading of the obituaries showed that over and over again, they succumbed to the virus. This past year, we read of dozens of folks over 90, just along the eastern edge of North Dakota, who died due to COVID. Over 8000 families up here had a loved one die, and many then were unable to even celebrate their lives in a traditional funeral, with friends and neighbors participating.
It is as if a huge chunk of our communal life this past year was dug out and tossed aside. Now, I’m not scared of death – really I’m not. As a pastor, I have had the holy privilege of being with dozens of folks as they died. It’s part of our life. However, when it “feels” like it has come too soon, or too quickly, or was caused by something other than the natural turn of events, it can be truly heartbreaking, and leave families and friends with hearts that are sad and wishing for something different.
These are all just statistics culled from some easily found information. And it appears things are getting better, and with the vaccinations (have you gotten yours yet?), we have a strong hope that, although dangerous, it can be managed, if not overcome.
But today, I take a moment to think about 26% more of my North Dakota neighbors dying this past year. That doesn’t even take into account the economic, and educational, and “normal” parts of our lives that have been thrown against the wall like raw eggs. But I thank God for the lives of those 8300 persons, whether dead by COVID or not, and for their families, who I pray will understand God’s love and consoling blessing surrounding them. We aren’t done with this yet, and so I pray for you as well, that you might not only be safe, but healthy, and able to care for those you love.
Peace to you today.
Word for the day: retrouvailles. Pronounced reh-tru-VAY. If you guess it might be French, I would say, “Oui!” It actually is one of those words that has meaning deeper than a definition. But let’s define it. From French retrouver, it means “to rediscover, or to find again.” Retrouvaille is in its simplest form, a reunion. But as they say in French, “there are moments that don’t fit time.” More than just getting together, it is the experience of seeing someone you love and care for who has been away, and now has returned. In 1970, the Omaha World-Herald published a full-size picture of when Dad came home from the Vietnam War. All seven of his kids were surrounding him, but the photo focused on the huge kiss and hug Dad laid on Mom, right there on the tarmac in front of God and everybody! All you could say was, “Retrouvaille” – and “nice job, Dad!”
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.