“The day will come when the memory of the loved one you lost will bring a smile to your lips before a tear to your eye. It will come. I promise you. My prayer for you though is that day will come sooner rather than later. And that’s when you know you’re going to be okay — you’re going to be okay.”
~ President Joe Biden
This day, Wednesday, February 24 is a red letter day on my personal calendar, a real shot in the arm that I’ve been eagerly awaiting for the past month. The colloquial expression, “a shot in the arm,” typically alludes to something that is vitalizing or encouraging, a stimulus or booster. In my case the shot in the arm is literally just that, a stimulus and booster.
This morning I received my second dose of the Moderna COVID 19 vaccine. This means that according to studies on the efficacy of the vaccine, after the next two weeks I can live with the knowledge that I have a better than 90% chance that, if infected this year by the virus, it’s not going to take my life. Blessed assurance! I could have hugged the nurse that delivered my shot in the arm were it not for COVID protocol.
As I took my seat in the hallway for my 15 minute observation period before dismissal, I offered thanks for the weight that is being lifted. But I also meditated on the recent solemn observance held at the White House for the passing of five hundred thousand Americans from COVID 19 for whom a vaccine has arrived too late. 500,000+ dead in a year… more than any other nation on earth… more than all Americans that died in World Wars I and II and Vietnam combined. It is a stunning statistic and a staggering sense of grief that hangs like a pall over a nation beset by perpetual mourning.
The simple but aesthetically beautiful candlelight ceremony with the President sincerely and compassionately addressing the nation’s grief was an emotional release for a people robbed of the normal routines of mourning. It was a long overdue occasion for a polarized nation to come together around a common need to pay respect to and honor an experience of loss common to all regardless of ideology, nationality, color, creed, status, sexual orientation or partisan loyalties. It was a moment when a nation’s leader taught its people a lesson in “good grief.”
It is good when families, congregations and the community at large can assemble to grieve together the loss of a beloved member. For the most part, the thieving virus has robbed us of such good grieving this past year. And the fact that most COVID victims die without family around them only exacerbates the loss. So, in times such as this it is especially necessary that the country is given opportunity to come together around their President to do the good work work of good grieving.
We talk a lot about matters of justice in these blog posts, environmental and otherwise. From the beginning of this pandemic and all through each subsequent month after month of mounting dead, many of us have felt a great sense of injustice. We know that in matters of environmental justice it is those on the margins who have contributed the least to the problem that are the first and foremost to suffer. We have seen the same hold true across our non-white minority populations when it comes to COVID cases and deaths. Again, it is just not Just. Compounding this sense of injustice is the reality that in what we call the most advanced nation on earth, this staggering death toll should never have occurred. Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been spared, but for…
And so it is good as a nation to be able to grieve the injustice of the loss of far too many lives and the injustice of the other multiple losses that an uncontrolled pandemic has wrought over the past year. If feels so good to be led in our corporate grief by a leader who understands our grief and is willing and able to connect with us and connect us to one another. It is immensely good to hear from a compassionate leader who has time and time again walked through the valley of the shadow of death that we have what it takes to go through the valley and come out on the other side. We have what it takes to one day be okay again.
It is also timely that our President leads us into good, healthy grieving at the outset of another Lenten journey of salvation that must end as it always does with death on the Cross. A cross of ashes marks the beginning of the journey, a reminder that we are not the master of our fate and that our lives are gifts with an undetermined ending. It is good for all of us when a President believes the story that Lent tells and knows that it is not the final chapter, who knows that Easter follows Good Friday. It is good when he can lead with that powerful, positive, inspiring, death-defying story under girding his faith that we can once again be okay.