Marking a grim milestone - with hope

“Like it or not, we either add to the darkness of indifference and out-and-out evil which surrounds us, or we light a candle to see by.” — Madeleine L'Engle


Quite a few people have observed that 2020 and continuing until now have been one continuous Lenten observance; a time of darkness when we consider things like our mortality, the ravages of sin in our lives, the necessity of forgiveness, and the need to repent. 


This past week a grim statistic has been recorded.  Our nation has reached 500,000 deaths due to covid-19.  The enormity of the number who have died within nearly a year is hard to wrap our minds around.  Not only have these people died, but they were not afforded the usual rites and rituals to honor their memories or grieve their passing. Their friends and families have suffered unduly because of the virus, as well.


In years to come, what will we tell people about how we were able to see our way through such a massive loss of life?  What happens to the living if they are not given meaningful avenues to grieve their losses?


In my family, I never saw anyone cry upon the death of a family member or friend.  Death was seen as something to be borne with a stiff upper lip and dispensed with as quickly as possible. Not until my beloved two-year-old beagle/Bassett mix, BeDelle, had to be put to sleep did the decades of unacknowledged grief come crashing down on my head.  It took at least two full months for me to stop daily stints of major crying spells. 


Grief itself causes exhaustion, fuzzy thinking, poor memory, feelings of isolation, depression and substance abuse, disordered eating, and exhaustion.  I don’t think anyone has escaped many of these outcomes of our collective grief during the pandemic.  The past year has made it enormously difficult to grieve in healthy, meaningful ways.


Our Conference Minister, Carrie Call, has forward a poem by the Rev. Laura Martin, who serves as Associate Minister of Rock Spring Congregational UCC in Arlington, VA.  It is a way of honoring those who have died this year and grieving their passing...


For 500,000


Call out all their names.

Nana. Son. Auntie. Friend. Paw Paw.

Soulmate.

Let yourself remember and hold everything -

The days you warmed your feet by a hearth,

The nights you kept silent in the face of beauty,

The summers growing up with ripe blackberries,

Green fields witness to it all.

The holidays marked by lights and 

The first time you prayed.

Let them not be lost to the world any further.

Make your monuments to them in this broken-apart earth.

In their memory let there be

Softness dropped between people.

Let there be surprises because 

It is an ordinary Tuesday.

Let there be canvases 

That tell the stories only art can say.

Let there be vegetables planted,

Something given away,

You noticing the cardinal in the tree.

Let there be the alleluia 

That can only be sung after the tomb.


May I make a suggestion?  Sometime in the next few days, read this poem aloud or silently.  Or just place it in a place of prominence like a Bible or in safe place where you will see it.  And then light a candle.  The great author, Leo Tolstoy, commented, “Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.” 


The simple act of lighting a candle in memory of the half million people who died in the past year can be an act of faith.  It stands as an act of boldness in the face of darkness and death.  And it sends ripples of illumination from your heart to someone else’s heart and so on. 


In Lent as in Advent we are reminded of these words, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  Remember them with gentleness and light a candle in gratitude remembering that no matter how far flung the darkness may be, the light of one candle can never be diminished.