It was two weeks after my second Pfizer shot. So, to honor the end of the I-must-isolate-from-everyone and my-mask-is-my-only-defense phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, I did a thing.
I did a thing with friends and my husband who were also just two weeks out from their second shot.
First, we hugged. I’ve had millions of hugs from those who live in my house, but not from others. It was beautiful.
Then, we had a meal. It was beautiful, too. And it felt so—normal. We had, in a sense, fasted the privilege of sharing a meal with friends in our house for the previous phase of the pandemic.
As we headed downstairs to do the thing I’d prepared, I already felt full, and it was not with food.
On the table was a very large round white baking dish fill by quarters with black, blue, red, and green sand. The colors, though distinct, mingled. Next to the sand were small white plant pots filled with tall skinny beeswax candles—the kind they light in Orthodox Christian churches. Two succulent plants and four champagne glasses completed the scene.
Before we came together, we all had taken time to reflect on the pandemic year. On the deaths and losses, on the gains and joys. For me, tears had come during this reflection. And here I was, in community, ready to voice the reflections. I explained the purpose and the progression of our ritual and prayed.
My friend began, telling the story of the deaths she had experienced. As a medical professional, there were many, and as person, some had hit really hard. We listened as she lit candles for the dead and told their stories. I was next and while I was not teary when I told of my father-in-law and my pastor then, I am now as I reflect back on the telling. All four adults told the stories and said the names of the dead. Even the kids joined in to light candles and place them in the quarter of black sand.
Next was loss. Lost graduations, honors, friends who moved away, travel, and just the parts of life that had been normal—getting coffee, going to church, celebrating birthdays. These losses took their place in the blue sand and burned. We did not intend to extinguish any of these candles. They would burn themselves out in the sand, just as loss and death stays in our focus as long as they want to.
It was interesting that my friend said that losses were hard to articulate because for her, a loss is always a gain in some way. I learned from her words—as one who feels pathos deeply, seeing the gain in a loss is a challenge for me. The gains we named touched our family, our health, our careers. As we placed them in the green sand, it was so interesting to note that the death candles were low, the loss candles were waning, but the gain candles burned proud and high.
We finished with the joys. They went in the red sand and included relationships renewed, bodies strengthened, highlights that just brought delight. Together we stated, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” We watched the candles as I took out my guitar to lead Matt Redmon’s classic, “Blessed Be Your Name.”
Though the intensity was done, the candles still burned. The joy candles leaned over to the gains, and death and loss were the first to extinguish themselves. My friend wonderingly stated, “All of this is a metaphor.” She was right. And it kept revealing more truth to us.
We did not end up popping the champagne toast. No matter. The transition was already complete. We knew we had freely moved forward to the next phase.
And like any great event, there was a goodie bag to take home. We filled the white plant pots with sand, mixing all the colors together. We nestled the succulent in the center, and I sent my friends home with some more candles.
See, this phase is complete, but the pandemic is not over. There would be more candles to light, as the death, losses, gains, and joys mingled just like the sand. And even in the middle of that sand, new life emerges.
I call this thing I did a ritual for liminality. I’m in the process of writing a book on honoring the events of our lives through Christian ritual. Here is another way I honored a COVID19 event.