During this time of COVID-19 isolation, we have all seen so many images and heard countless stories of tribulations and death. It was only a few months ago, we never dreamed any of these horrors were remotely possible.
A few weeks ago, I was gathering research for a column I wrote regarding how the flu epidemic of 1918 devastated my father’s family. As I was studying the facts of the Spanish Flu pandemic, I came across a photo of people requiring burial in mass graves because of the multitudes who perished from that unseen enemy in a short time. These were the folks who had no one to claim their bodies or others whose families did not have enough money for a proper burial. Instead, they eternally rest in pine boxes buried side by side in trenches.
This disturbing, horrific picture etched itself into my heart. I was comforted knowing that my family members who died from 1918 to 1920 were interred in a little cemetery beside their mothers and fathers. Their tombstones tell the story of their existence. Somehow that gave me peace.
An isle of sorrow
Off the coast of the Bronx in New York lies a tiny one mile stretch of land called Hart Island. Abandoned buildings dot this landscape of loss. White posts emerge from the ground, denoting where mass graves are located in this public cemetery. These graves are the final resting place for children and adults who were once disadvantaged or unclaimed.
This week, one hundred years after the photo of the mass burials for victims of the Spanish Flu, a picture emerged of a trench being dug on Hart’s Island. Unclaimed souls were buried side by side on a cloudy, cold day in 2020. The old public cemetery is currently burying up to 25 people per day now in pine boxes, reminiscent of a scene from a century ago.
Did we ever believe that was remotely possible?
There is so much to learn from seeing such sorrow. As I thought about the impoverished or unclaimed bodies whose names and existence lie lost beneath the ground on this stark bit of earth, I am reminded of Easter.
That is the glory of Easter.
What we learn from Easter
Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, these souls were not lost but claimed. They may have been broken or forgotten here on earth, but not in Christ’s domain.
The Bible tells us to serve the poor, abandoned, or those in need. How many times did Christ speak of loving each other regardless of whether we are rich or poor? Do we just read the words and the parables he taught, but not live by them? If so, who or what is the unseen
I see folks fret and panic over their retirement funds dwindling, their stocks plummeting, and the economy tumbling. And yes, for sure, it is worrisome. However, if we don’t learn compassion, humility, thankfulness, and understanding from all this, we are more doomed than our savings accounts.
When my Grandmother, who was not a rich woman by any stretch of the imagination, would give her money away to someone in need, my mother would often get upset. “Now, Elizabeth, sometimes giving away money makes us richer.” Mama knew her mother was right because my Grandmother lived by the words Christ left us.
If we renew the inane political blame games, the bigotry, hoarding our money or our goods, and spreading divisiveness after this, we know the real enemy is….us. Will we let Easter and all that Jesus taught us to be put on the back burner until the next catastrophe occurs? Or, will we opt for making better choices?
Today many people are giving their lives to help others. The caretakers and the medical community. The truck drivers, service providers, and those on the front lines of the Coronavirus battle. They hear the word of God through the spirit in their hearts. Many of us do, but it is when we turn the words into action, we see that the risen Christ continues to live among us.
When we return to lives we once knew, let’s use our faith to aid one another, be kinder, less judgemental, and become more charitable. If we do, and we behave as Christ has asked of us, then maybe in 100 years there will be no more pictures of mass graves or forgotten souls.
Is that remotely possible?
Who are the poor or the unclaimed in God’s eyes? Who are the ones who lie in trenches alone? It may not be those in graves, but those who walk without hearing or heeding the word.
Give all you can to those who are needing you now.