There’s a strange atmosphere in the world, normality and history rubbing shoulders and no-one quite sure what to do with that. My wife was able to do a supply run today, emerging from self-isolation to grab some basics from ourselves and some friends, and it was a heavy experience; a local farm is about the close because of the virus, shoppers look at each other with suspicion and mistrust, a country tries to evoke the spirit of wartime against an enemy that doesn’t even know we’re here. I don’t think any of us were psychologically prepared for this.
Lines from the Bible (or the Byrds, take your pick) keep swimming through my mind: “A time to mourn”, “A time to weep”. In one sense it’s obviously a time for these; as of a quick Google search ten minutes ago, 36,000 people have died due to COVID-19, 1,651 of these in my country. My family knew some of those victims, friends or friends of friends; of course it’s a time to mourn, it’s what we need to do at times like this.
And yet the scale of this pandemic can be guilt-inducing. The numbers are so big, the impact so devastating, that we can feel bad about the more prosaic effects this thing is having. We can feel self-indulgent when we see others going through hell, our heads being messed with every minute of every day.
But it’s okay to mourn. I’m saying this out loud, in public, because even though I have no authority over your life or anyone else’s, I want you to have some sort of permission to deal with everything that’s going on. Not just the deaths, although these are terrible, each one a fracture in someone’s world, but also all the other losses we go through. We need to process, to reflect, to deal with the anger and doubt and frustration and to heal, because for all we’re told to keep a stiff upper lip, sooner or later we either allow ourselves to grieve or we simply shatter. It doesn’t have to be in public, you don’t need to be on Zoom for this, but like the man said, there’s a time to weep.
And so we’re allowed to mourn for our communities, for the businesses that are struggling or going under, for those losing their jobs, their careers, their livelihoods. We can mourn the loss, however temporary, of our libraries and schools and churches and coffee mornings and Slimming World meetings.
We’re allowed to mourn the lost opportunities, the trips that now can’t be taken, the plans that need to be cancelled, the goodbyes that can’t be said.
We’re allowed to mourn our rites of passage, all those kids pulled out of school without having a prom or a graduation, the chance to have their shirts signed or a fumbled first kiss behind the fire escape, the chance to bid farewell to the friends going in different directions after the summer has passed. The exam days and the results days and, for those of us who may be looking nostalgically back on this there are still the weddings and the stag-stroke-hen nights, the retirement parties, the anniversaries, all the markers in time against which we orientate our lives and the changes we’ve seen.
We’re allowed to mourn for justice, for inequality, for those struggling through this pandemic through no fault of their own – the healthcare workers who don’t have enough time or resources or equipment, the neighbours who don’t have enough groceries, all those who are starting to cough and run a fever but who can’t go to hospital because there’s no-one to take them, or they can’t afford it, or because they’ve convinced themselves they shouldn’t be a bother. All those dealing with the ugliness that situations like this inevitably reveal.
We’re allowed to mourn for all the impossible decisions, the doctors on triage, the managers looking in despair at their staffing budgets and overheads, the mourners who have to choose who among them gets to go to the funeral and the pastors who have to help them navigate that, the leaders who are trying to tackle a situation that nothing ever prepared them for.
We’re allowed to mourn for the things we don’t understand, like my eldest son who knows that things just aren’t right, who knows life has changed and the world’s been shaken but who doesn’t quite understand why, despite him asking every day but getting repeated answers from mom and dad that just don’t fit in with his jigsaw life.
We’re allowed to mourn the silence, we’re allowed to mourn the loneliness, the anxiety, the fear.
These too are loss.
And so I’m thinking about what it means to be a beloved community in times like this, and all I can think is that we need to create and hold space for the mourning and the tears, for lament and the sad songs that are still to be written, for the candles that burn, flickering in the dark, each one saying that we’re still here, we still hurt, we still love.
Then tomorrow we light the candles all over again, and the next day, until it’s a time to laugh, a time to dance.