My phone chirped and buzzed its familiar alert. My lock screen lit up with a headline from one of our local news channels. “COVID HEALTH EMERGENCY OVER!”
The World Health Organization announced today that Covid-19 no longer qualifies as a global emergency. It’s a symbolic end to a time none of us will easily forget. I started my work as a hospital chaplain just a few months before the world locked down.
Earlier this fall, our chaplaincy team declared our own symbolic end to the pandemic. At a retreat, our director held up a box containing 5563 little multi-colored bands. That’s how many deaths our team responded to from the official beginning of the pandemic on March 13th, 2020, until the morning of October 14th, 2022. He invited us to collect a band for each death we responded to as a way of remembering the weight of that time. I responded to 469 of those deaths. I was with parents of babies who never got to take a breath. I met with the loved ones of people who lived long and full lives. I consoled the friends and families of people cut down instantly by trauma or violence and everything in between. Not every death was Covid related during that time, but for a long stretch, many of them were. Our team left the conspiracy theories and politics to others and just showed up day after day after day to care for people in their time of need. Four hundred sixty-nine times, I showed up, and I wasn’t even close to the chaplain on our team who responded the most.
Four hundred sixty-nine..
That number will forever be ingrained in my mind because it's not just a number.
They were real people. They had faces and names and hopes and dreams and heartbreak and failure and disappointment. Some were beloved, and others were utterly alone. Some deaths were peaceful, and others were violent and horrific. Some held the hand of a loved one as they died. Others died at the hand of someone who was supposed to love them. I shared a faith and other things in common with some. But the tragic beauty of what I do is found in the diversity of the people I get to walk alongside, even if just briefly. They were real people from every walk of life. I have vivid memories of some, but many of them blur together. I struggle to remember their faces and names. There are just too many. But all were (and are) significant. My soul is forever marked by their deaths, and I will never be the same. Life is a constant journey of growth and healing, and setbacks. I grow weary and ache. I fall, only to be picked up, restored, and renewed by the grace of God and the love of my family and friends.
I've been working on a song to try to represent the breadth of humanity in that number. I know I can't fully capture it, but below is my attempt. Songs should be heard, not read. A recording will be on the way soon(ish). Next week there will be an acoustic demo of the song available for paid subscribers to this site, as well as to those who participate in my work as patrons/ministry family. These are the only places you will ever hear this raw version of the song before it evolves into the final version in the studio. To become a paid subscriber to this site, click the “Manage Subscription” button at the end of this post. To learn more about participating as a patron/ministry family member, CLICK HERE.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening. Thanks for caring. Thanks for loving me. Let me know what you think.
Christians Buddhists aunts & uncles
Muslims Hindus 2nd cousins
Goths & gamers LGBTQ+
Farmers people from the Street
Democrats & athletes
Artists pastors politicians Jews
I think about you all the time
Vegans moms & carnivores
Upperclass & unemployed
People who had just been doing fine
Republicans & rock musicians
Business people obstetricians
Teenagers & babies never born
Grief has a way of holding on tightly
I’m punch drunk, I’m shaken, I’m tired from fighting
On the outside I’m fine, but the wounds bleed inside of me
I can’t remember their names
I can’t remember their names
But they all had faces and names
God, help me remember my name