As we emerge from a thawing country, together and separately, fully vaccinated and carefully negotiating what it means to stand close to one another again, unmasked, many of us feel relieved and even joyful. Most of us are also grieving. As I write this, there have been 34,494,677 recorded cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 619,424 reported deaths related to the virus in our country alone. We have all been touched by it, some of us in crushing ways. We have lost people and time and ways of life. Some people say that everything happens for a reason. I am not one of those people.
As I try to make sense of what has happened and what has changed and what is left of the world and the ways of life I remember, I find myself struggling to reconcile what I am seeing and feeling with what I know or thought I knew in normal time—or The Before Time that I thought was normal time. Now I recognise that liminal space between a lost past and uncertain future as grief. The only way beyond grief is through it, but there are many ways through it. I know this sounds like a riddle or a simply translated proverb. I also know it’s true.
One way through grief is service. And as many of us know, from the tips of our fingers through the depths of our hearts to the bottom of our wallets, there are many ways to serve. Theologically, the practice I am talking about is accompaniment—a practice of being in community with another person or people. Practically, it is just showing up. One thing we can do right now, as we grapple and rebuild a world deformed by the dual pandemics of a virus and entrenched racial inequality and violence, is show up for our neighbours.
As we continue to move forward, masked and unmasked, my prayer for us is that we show up for each other in the small and consistent ways we can. This accompaniment can take a thousand different shapes: It is crouching in places we do not feel like we belong and where nobody really belongs; it is making a simple dinner for someone who needs it; it is that small thing you do that needs to be done that maybe nobody sees. There is much more to say here about scale and impact, but let’s leave it at this: Every time we show up for someone else, it makes some kind of difference. The nature of power is such that our relationships with each other are imbalanced, but the nature of grace is that feeling that shared humanity is mutual. Now more than ever, I refuse to believe that terrible things happen for particular reasons. My faith is attached to reason at a different juncture: I believe that there are reasonable ways through everything that happens. One way is service, and the first step in serving each other is showing up.
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Liz Hauck is the author of Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up—and What We Make When We Make Dinner (Dial Press). She’s an educator, writer, and volunteer from Boston, Massachusetts.
With thanks to America Magazine and Liz Hauck, where this article originally appeared.