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Opinion: We grieve together
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Six people were killed following a liquid nitrogen leak at Foundation Food Group in Gainesville on Thursday, authorities said. Five were found dead and another died at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Sean Couch. - photo by Scott Rogers

The dark malaise that has hung over us all like a cloud for the past several months deepened by several shades Thursday with the tragic incident at a local business that claimed six lives and left others seriously injured.

An area already fighting COVID-19 fatigue and all the lingering manifestations of the pandemic’s impact suddenly was rocked by yet another reminder of how truly fragile life is and how suddenly it can be lost.

In the aftermath, we can only grieve together and push through to better days.

There is much we do not yet know about the fatal incident at Foundation Food Group, much we will have to investigate and digest as information becomes available. But what we do know is that six people who went to work Thursday morning at one of our local industries did not return home to their families Thursday night.

The suddenness of those six deaths adds to a communal air of sadness that has become almost tangible of late as we have seen the death toll from COVID continue to climb and have said goodbye to so many in the area.

Though not all have been a result of the pandemic, in recent weeks we have lost community stalwarts, business leaders, neighbors and friends, seemingly at an accelerated pace. The pages of this newspaper have been filled with obituary notices and news stories about some of those who died.

Together we mourn for them all. For the victims of a tragic industrial accident. For the victims of a deadly disease that continues to ravage the world. For those lost to natural causes, to age and infirmities, to more routine forms of illness.

It was John Donne who admonished us: “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” The bell has tolled too often in recent months, and our community has been diminished as a result.

We grieve.

At a time when we seem more divided than ever as a nation, there should be a sad unity in communal grief.

A community’s grief should not be defined by class structure. Rich and poor, blue collar and white, “have” and “have nots” have all felt pain, though it is impossible to ignore  the reality that Thursday’s tragedy has a disparate impact on the minority and  immigrant community that is so essential to the ongoing success of the poultry industry.

A community’s grief should not be divided by race. Black and white and brown and all the hues of the skin color spectrum feel the suffering together, though COVID has had a disproportionate impact on minority populations.

A community’s grief should not be divided by politics. Nor religion. Nor personal creed.

We should grieve as neighbors, as friends, as co-workers. As caring human beings in an area filled with other caring human beings.

Yet even in our grief, we can find those around us who provide us with hope for better days and faith in others.

Like the first responders who did such an incredible job on Thursday of reacting to what could have been a much more catastrophic event. EMTs and medical personnel, police and fire departments from both the city and county,  both local school systems providing buses for transporting employees, Free Chapel for making its facilities available as a staging ground.

Like the hospital employees who, already overtaxed by months of dealing with the COVID crisis, found themselves confronted with a totally different sort of emergency and once again rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion. God bless them.

Like each of those who stood behind the microphone at press conferences Thursday afternoon to try to explain what had happened and how it had been handled.

And yes, like the journalist from all forms of media who let the public know what had happened.

There are still many things we do not know about Thursday’s fatal incident, but we do know that those first responders we expect to deal with such an emergency in our community did their jobs, and did them well, and there is solace in that fact.

Just as there is solace in the fact that there is reason to believe the ravages of COVID will lessen in the months to come as spread of the virus is reduced; reason to believe that before the end of the year we may be able to return to lives we took for granted just a year ago.

In the solemnity of our community grief, there is cause for hope as well. Having persevered through dark days, we will head as neighbors toward a more optimistic beam of light, helping each other to find the way out of the shadows of depression and angst.

Because we are a community.

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