I’m listening to Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, in full, as I write tonight. I learned to adore this work circa 1996 at Berry College, under the direction of Harry Musselwhite. It speaks largely of death, and so maybe you might wonder at my love of it. Of course bottom line, it’s just gorgeous music. But also it tells a larger story–not just death, but the promise of something after that, the promise of light on the other side of that which we must say goodbye to.
“Requiem” is, in the Catholic church, a musical composition offered for the repose of the soul in death. I know–super cheery, but work with me here. It can also just a mean an act of remembrance, a token, of sorts, for that which is no more.
And of course that makes a full musical requiem an appropriate thing to listen to today–Holy Saturday, this time in between Jesus’ death and resurrection. This time of not knowing for Mary, his mother, for Mary Magdalene, for the countless others mourning him. This time of everything his followers had given their lives to having been, it seems, lost.
This time of utter terror and such pain and deep, deep grief.
Requiem is also an appropriate thing to offer in the middle of a pandemic–when in just a few short weeks, as of this weekend and this writing, 20,000 people have died, just in the United States. The worldwide number hovers just over 100,000. And yes–I know–many thousands more die of all sorts of things and in all sorts of horrid ways the world over. And certainly in the United States. But that makes this no less real. No less a tragedy. No less something we ought to take seriously, ought to do our best to combat, for our own lives, as well as those of our neighbors.
Lives have been lost. So have jobs. And financial security. And safety. And birthdays and weddings and graduations and memorial services and in-real-life classrooms and soccer games and baseball’s opening day and all sorts of community events. Make no mistake, the isolation that fighting this virus requires produces real grief and real trauma. It is, at best, uncomfortable; it is, at worst, a loss from which some of us will not recover. And for many who survive, the return to anything that resembles thriving will be a difficult road.
When will this be over? How long before grandparents can let their grandchildren back up on their laps? How long before separated significant others can touch, hug, kiss, just be, together again? How long before I can go to the grocery store without feeling like every particle of air is out to get me? How long before our children are able to resume their own lives? It’s so crucial for them to have being outside of us. When will I get to take communion again from actual hands of fellow church members? When can we stop waving through windows and pull one another into the embraces we are missing more than we ever thought possible?
When will things go back to the way they were?
Y’all? They won’t.
We will not be the same. Even if come June we can mindlessly walk through Target again sipping a latte and smelling candles; even as vacations get rescheduled and postponed events issue new dates; even as we can hold and be held again when this is finally, and blessedly over–we will not be the same. This pandemic has tugged at the very core of our assumptions that we in the United States are above such a thing. This isolation has exposed our hearts and laid bare our deepest worries and fears and insecurities. And it will, I think, take us a while to trust community again.
I believe with all that I am that even in the most awful situations, goodness emerges–even if just eventually, even if only a tiny sliver, even if it is not at all what we imagined. And so, because I trust that somewhere there is goodness at work, my deepest hope is that we will emerge on the other side of COVID-19 having laid waste to life as we know it with these five things now woven into the fabric of our lives:
- Deeper humility–we are not, after all, invincible. Not by a long shot. And even the mightiest of us can be brought to our knees by a failed economy, by a virus ravaging our lungs, by a refusal to listen to the greater good and continue our own selfish ways.
- Greater intimacy–a friend said today that when this is over, she is going to be hugging everyone she sees. Every. One. All. The. Time. I’ll be right behind her. But even more than that, I wonder if maybe this virus isn’t teaching us about what intimacy really is. Suddenly hour-long and in-depth FaceTime conversations are a “date,” and zoom happy hours make space for conversation about how scared and anxious we all are. This is, despite the fact that we’d rather be in person, an odd blessing.
- Real community–y’all, every day I am amazed at how I see very real care and concern for neighbor unfolding across this country. The lie that we care only about ourselves has been given room to riot for a long time, and maybe we just learned to give into it–but not now. Now I see us offering shelter, supporting local businesses with great fervor, asking where we can donate, making time for phone calls and video chats, holding AA meetings and reading stories and offering encouragement online. It’s all completely beautiful.
- An appreciation for sacrifice–I am grateful tonight that a chaplain friend of mine, who spent yesterday sleeping off a 25-hour shift, is, safe. I am grateful that another friend, a single mama who I’ve known since our children were in preschool together, and who is an ER nurse, is beginning to emerge from a vicious two-week bout with COVID-19 that has left her shaken beyond measure. I am grateful for grocery store workers and non-profits serving those in need and police officers and doctors and EMT’s and the National Guard and those keeping an especial eye out for victims of domestic violence. Do you see that we owe these people our very lives? Our very civilization? Do you see that we cannot let their sacrifice go unheeded?
- A refusal to take anything for granted–I am so fortunate y’all. I work from home. My job is not on the line. I have plenty of head space to help my child with school work when she needs it. And even still I have been unsettled at not being able to find eggs or milk or some other such thing. And even I have spent the better part of a few days alternating tears and prayer at how awful this all feels, at how much I miss our people. And I resolve to never take any of it for granted again.
There is requiem to be sung, prayed, acted, noticed, for what has been lost. And yet, there is hope for what might be.
Even as I offer requiem, I remember that the truth of my faith is that Jesus is with us in all suffering. And because of this I refuse to let grief or pain or fear have the last word. Because never, once, are we truly alone. No matter closed doors and masked faces and the aching for a hand to hold. Never. Alone.
Meanwhile, we are in pain. Meanwhile, we are confused. Meanwhile, we are overwhelmed.
But Easter will come anyway, reminding us that we were made for relationship, and the strength to be found in each other is what gives us hope that light is, after all, shining at the tunnel’s end.
We are losing a great deal, my friends–more than it may seem we can bear.
But maybe–maybe–we will, on this other side of this terror, find a way of being more lovely than we ever thought possible.