FARGO — Columnists get emails. It's part of the gig. Every once in a while, one pops into the inbox that leaves you without words.

It happened this week when a reader, responding to my column trying to put the United States' more than 250,000 COVID deaths into local perspective, wrote something that left me speechless.

And disheartened.

But after thinking about it, and taking into consideration this is 2020 and we are at the tail end of the Trump presidency, I am convinced the writer isn't alone in his thinking. If given the opportunity, others would profess a similar belief.

The belief is this: The more than 250,000 COVID deaths in the United States aren't that big of a deal because most of the victims were past their life expectancy anyway.

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The writer said they should've already been dead because of the natural "circle of life."

"Covid deaths are substantially weighted to those who are elderly and — are over life expectancy. A reasonable approximation would be 82% or so. This means that of the 250k deaths, around 205,000 of these people 'should have' died from the circle of life," reader John wrote in a 10-paragraph email.

When I read the email the first time, I stopped after that paragraph. I sent a reply to the writer saying as much.

He responded: "Sure, stick your head in the sand. Everyone dies ... maybe it's time you grow up."

I went back and read the entirety of John's email (he provided his last name, but I won't use it because he sent the email to me personally and not as a letter to the editor to be shared publicly). He raised mostly boilerplate points, some of which were fair. He asked, for example, "at what point does fear become irrational?" Many have contemplated that the last eight months. How do we balance staying safe with living a meaningful life?

And, of course, John blamed the media for fear mongering. Yawn.

But it was John's dismissiveness of those who've died from COVID that I can't shake. Are people really thinking this way, that a virus particularly deadly to elderly Americans and those with underlying conditions is just hastening something that should've already happened anyway?

The answer is "yes," I fear. There are Americans who think this way. That if an 80-year-old contracts COVID and dies, well, it was a good run. Besides, the thinking goes, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 79 years, so that person was living on borrowed time anyway.

It is unnecessary Darwinism invoked to "keep the lights on," to use John's phrase.

They were the most heartless words sent to me in nearly 25 years of writing columns. Reducing 250,000 lives to a shrug of the shoulders because they were past their life expectancy is a callousness with which I cannot relate.

Then again, it's 2020. Just when we think we've bottomed out, another day dawns to prove us wrong. I suspect some responses to this column will find an even deeper bottom.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655