Fellows Reflection: Introducing grief to gratitude
Jul 23, 2020|Written By: Rachel Gaffin
Editor’s note: The following was written in mid-May before George Floyd’s murder by police brought systemic racial injustice into the majority of Americans’ consciousness and galvanized the worldwide protests that continue today.
Right now, we all have much to grieve. The world aches as COVID-19 has brought everything, it seems, to a grinding halt. The economy suffers, people get sick and die. Our essential workers put their lives on the line each day, and we are all scared and confused.
Abundant Life Fellows has been no exception to the rule of grief: our programming effectively stopped in mid-March as closures and cancellations became, overnight, the norm. Our 11-month program was suddenly cut short to seven. College road trips for high school guys and girls, Fellows trips, Abundant Madness, regular weekly programming: one after another, our events were canceled.
A season of loss
Meanwhile, a fire hit the neighborhood and we got news that one of our neighbors, Lily, had lost her brother to COVID-19, a mere month after losing her husband. We felt helpless to know what it looked like to care for neighbors in the face of a global pandemic, when we couldn’t even show up physically. Thanks to the gifts of so many of you and the tireless work of Anne Brown (Director of Community Engagement), we were able to respond to the fire. As for Lily, I stop and chat with her every time I see her, and bring her groceries every now and again. But that’s no substitute for a hug, the chance to have her over for dinner — things that aren’t an option these days.
We don’t have to look far to find reasons to grieve these days. As I navigate this strange time of COVID-19, however, I’m also finding that I don’t have to look far to find reasons to be grateful. Often, the two emotions – gratitude and grief – seem to be polar opposites: what does it mean to be thankful in the midst of loss? Is it fair to feel grateful when the world is falling apart? Is it possible to sit with both grief and gratitude, invite them to the same table, and encourage them to have a conversation?
Simultaneously holding gratitude and grief
I’ve been trying. Even though I mourn that I can’t really have people over to the house right now, I’m more grateful than ever for our backyard. Each week, Kari, one of the high school girls, comes over with her dog Mozzie to let him loose in the back. Her family doesn’t have a yard at their place in Greenstone Apartments, so this is the one chance Mozzie has to get off the leash and run around outside. While he romps around in the grass, Kari and I will chat about her life, her college aspirations, and the things that have been getting us through quarantine. We’ve bonded over a shared love for PB&J’s. Time with Kari is always sweet, and I’m grateful.
Even though I grieve that Jonathan and I no longer get to host Bible Club at Abundant Life in person, and that we didn’t really get to give the kids a proper goodbye before we all hunkered down for the long haul, I’m grateful for the chance to create Bible Club videos each week that we then share with the parents. The space has offered a fun opportunity for Jonathan to use his skills in audio and video engineering, as well as creating a space where volunteers can continue to participate in the work we do here.
We will all bear the weight of the real, painful losses that COVID-19 has brought in our lives. At the same time, I’m grateful for the invitation this season extends to learn, to be quiet, and to let go of any illusion any of us have had that we are in control.
Finding silver linings
While I mourn the trips we will never take, the programs we won’t be able to finish out, and the struggling job market we’re gearing up to enter into, I’m simultaneously grateful for the slow pace of this quarantine season. I’m grateful for the daily rhythms of work, rest, and communion Katy and I have set up in the Fellows house. We’ve gotten to know each other more deeply because of this time, and I’ll always be glad for that. I’m grateful for a deepened appreciation of how wonderful it is to walk outside under a blue sky, for opportunities to garden, draw, write, read, play guitar, and connect with friends and family via FaceTime and a lot of backyard hangouts. I’m grateful for azaleas, roses, buttercups, and Stars of Bethlehem outside; for the alstroemerias and sunflowers I keep buying for the kitchen table.
These gifts I enjoy are not a guarantee, and I don’t want to take them for granted. I grieve the tragedy of this season and its impact on my neighbors, my friends, and myself. We will all bear the weight of the real, painful losses that COVID-19 has brought in our lives. At the same time, I’m grateful for the invitation this season extends to learn, to be quiet, and to let go of any illusion any of us have had that we are in control.
My grief and my gratitude have been in conversation for a while. Sometimes the grief drowns the gratitude out, sometimes vice versa. But I think that if the Christian life is about anything, it’s about being honest about the world, in all its nuance. It’s about making room for mourning and celebration. It’s about allowing both feelings to be real, because the Christian life is one of death and new life. So for now, I’ll keep buying flowers.