The psalms are truly timeless poetry that can carry us through the many joys and sorrows of our lives. The line from this psalm, Psalm 103, “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy” is a line that I hope you will carry with you and remember in the particularly difficult times of your lives, because it is important for us to remember that God is full of compassion, and compassion means to “suffer with,” to “feel with.” Therefore God is not some distant entity that watches us from afar, but God is with us, as close as our own breath, and God suffers when we suffer. God feels what we feel. And remembering this not only draws us closer to God, but it gives us permission to feel what God already knows that we feel.
And right now, we are feeling many things. Sorrow and grief, for sure; some of us are feeling anxiety and even anger. And that is okay. As I hope that you have already heard, “it is ok to not be ok.”
When I came back to campus in mid-August one of the first things that I did was prepare to turn the chapel into a temporary study hall. I came into Turner Hall, and it was dark and quiet. The chapel was still set for the season of Lent as it had been in March, with purple altar hangings and the cross veiled. There was even a sign on the door reminding people about our early-morning Lenten meditation: to maintain silence upon entering. And as I was folding up the altar hangings and moving the missal and the candles, I was overwhelmed by a deep sadness, and I began to cry. So much of the grief of the last six months welled up, and I just let the tears roll. And that was ok. Because the thing about grief is that it is a sign of love. We grieve because we love, because we cherish people and things and traditions and places. And even though I have not been at St. Catherine’s very long, I love this place and these people, and I particularly love gathering the community together for chapel, singing together, praying together, sitting in silence together, listening to each other’s stories, embracing one another and sometimes cheering for each other. I let the tears roll in celebration of all of that.
A few days later I was back in my home town of Blacksburg, and I met my childhood best friend at an outdoor restaurant. As soon as I sat down at the table I realized that I had not been to a restaurant since February. The first thing that she asked me when she arrived was “how are you?” I almost said the typical “I’m great how are you?” But instead I gave her the honest answer: I said, “To be honest, at least once a week I end up lying on my yoga mat and just crying.” Yoga has always been my healing practice, and it has carried me through this pandemic for sure. My friend’s response was: “I am so glad that you said that. Me too. I have to stop and step outside regularly and just let the tears come.”
Right now we are carrying a lot of grief, friends. Not just our own grief, but the grief of others, because we are all connected in this world. And it is important to process our grief. And to remember that God is with us in our grief. And to remember that grief is an unwanted gift, but a gift nonetheless, because grief is a sign of love. The world is heavy right now. Not only with the coronavirus, but also the fires on the west coast, the rebuilding after hurricanes and the preparation for more storms, the civil unrest and the political tension as we prepare for an election, continued economic struggles, and then of course all of the things in our personal lives, some of which only we know.
I would like to end with a bit of a lighter expression of grief by sharing a short animated film about a character called Nessie, based on Nessie of Loch Ness. When my daughters were young they would often try to hold back their tears and not show their feelings, so I would sit them down and show them this little film. And a few years later, when I was going through a very hard time and trying to hide my sadness from them, they sat ME down and played the film, saying, “remember, mom!?”
I encourage you to look up the short film, "The Ballad of Nessie" so you can experience the message.
St. Catherine’s School nurses, Elizabeth Blanton ‘97 and Stacia Schoeffler, spent countless hours this past spring and over the summer to prepare for more than 1,200 students, faculty and staff to return to campus.