2020’s Death Toll Is Getting To Me

I know two people who died last week, one from Covid, one after a long life and then a period of decline. I didn’t know either well, but both were part our neighborhood. Mike was the head custodian at my kids’ grade school, and John was a one-time neighbor whose daughter still lives next door. For their families and close friends, there is deep grief and mourning. For me there is this persistent feeling that something was lost, that people I care about are suffering – my neighbor, the teachers and staff at our school.

News of their deaths came as Covid cases are spiking, as we’re rethinking the small liberties we gave ourselves over the summer and fall, and as people we know and love have the virus but have minimal symptoms. Sadness and loss feel big and present but ephemeral, and I’m latching onto the tangible stories of these men, who are remembered as so kind and so dear.

I knew my neighbor John for just a few years before he moved to assisted living with his wife. I saw his devotion to his grandson. John was delighted to go to his grandson’s baseball games at Cretin Derham Hall. He followed him to tournaments around the country, and was so very happy to see that he would play college ball. It was a joy to watch his joy, and I’m grateful we crossed paths.

The head custodian had been at our school for over 28 years – truly it was his school more than ours. As a volunteer, I often bit off more than I could chew and made more mess than I could clean up perfectly (Baking in the staff lounge with nine fourth graders…). I usually needed more doors unlocked than I had officially requisitioned, and more often than I thought I’d need them. He never made me feel out of place or out of bounds. He always made me feel comfortable in his building. He seemed truly like delighted to see the kids having fun and parents getting involved.

I don’t know what it cost each of them to show up like that – if it was nourishing or depleting. I hope that I was seeing them as they had given themselves to Love, as Father Clay says below. That I saw them giving themselves to others and therefore being who they truly were. And I hope it was as nourishing as it looked.

I’m always calibrating how much to give and how much to reserve for self-care, like the choice is either/or. Maybe the lesson these two are leaving for me is to pay attention to joy and factor my own delight into the calibration. To truly align purpose with how I spend my time, earn my income, and serve my community. To merge what I do with why I’m here.

The soaring pandemic combined with the pressure to keep my kids and my business on track and maintain precious ties to friends and family – it has all been getting to me. I’ve put in long hours and all but stopped journaling and exercising. I want to solve all the things. Right now.

Here’s what my reflection on John and Mike is reminding me of: my job is to do the most important thing that’s right in front of me with as much love and skill as I can. And to trust that that’s enough.

Who Am I?

Only if I give myself to Love am I being who I am. Why is that? I am the image of Love (God). I am love. Without Love I could not be me, because without Love I could not love (give of myself).

When we give of ourselves to others, we are being who we are. When we are both giving and receiving, we are in communion. There are you, me, and communion. You, me, and communion make three. We are not only three but one.

For me this is a pointer to three persons, one God – the total giving and receiving in communion, the circle and dance of Love.

This helps me to ponder what is meant by “God is love,” to ponder what each one of us is (already but not yet), and to ponder how Love is drawing us to become who we already are.

Some points to remember:

  • We are individuals. We are individuals whose essence is to love.
  • We are individuals who are in community. Both aspects must be honored. They complement each other but sometimes the community absorbs the individual, and sometimes the individual neglects the community, When love is present, both are honored. When there is no community, there is no one to love.
  • Our growth in love varies greatly among us. We have to be loved into love. How deeply we are loved, especially in our formative years, greatly influences our growth into love.
  • This is why we can’t judge people. We can judge people’s actions to some reasonable degree, but we can’t judge the person.
  • If religion doesn’t put our inside transformation into love as primary, then religion easily becomes mostly external and misses the point.

From “Epilogue: Who Am I” by Father John Clay in Awesome Love, (c) 2013

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