We lost a good friend to COVID last week. He battled it on a ventilator for over two weeks, while the nurses played the rock music he loved and his family FaceTimed with him every day. This was a good man: a retired police officer, head of a S.W.A.T. team, Vietnam veteran, husband, father, grandfather. Funny and fun, he played in a rock band and sang in the church choir.
I never really understood the “salt of the earth” analogy. I’m pretty sure the earth was salted by invading armies so crops wouldn’t grow. No, he was more of a “salt of our bread” person. He gave the lives of those around him more flavor; he strengthened us like salt strengthens the gluten strands. He felt like an essential part of our lives.
I remember all the stories we read and we told about the people we lost after 911. There were stories, too many to count, of unbelievable valor, of desperate last goodbyes. I remember the somberness of the nation facing that deep, wrenching grief together. I remember seeing all the flyers in New York with pictures of loved ones still missing in the days and weeks following. Picture after picture, each one beloved, each one with a story. Our public radio station separated its news stories with cello music and, for the first time, I fell in love with its mournful tones. It reflected what was inside of us; it soothed as much as it brought a tear or two.
I can’t get my arms around the numbers of people who are dying, in this country and across our world. I know we need to know the numbers, but we need to hear the stories as well. It is only in grieving with one another that we can begin to appreciate the depth of our loss; it is only in appreciating it that we can begin, at some point, to heal.
The story I most remember about my friend was one told by his daughter a few years ago. When she was in college, long before I came to know them, she struggled with her school and her studies. It didn’t feel right to her; she just didn’t belong where she was. She awoke one night to a panic attack, and in the middle of the night, called her dad. He was her calm port. After he listened to her, he asked her what she wanted to do.
I can tell you that my dad would have been furious to be called in the middle of the night. Marc and I fielded our share of college calls with our sons, and we mostly tried to talk them down. Talk them to some sort of place where they could go back to bed and do some rational decision-making in the morning.
Not her dad. He asked her what she wanted to do. When she said, “Daddy, I just want to come home,” he said okay. He got dressed right then, got in the car, and drove four hours to get her and four hours more to bring her home. That is sheer love and acceptance. I thought it was one of the most beautiful stories about a beautiful man I had ever heard. I still do.
Let’s start sharing our stories of those we’ve lost. Not occasionally, not as a once a week feature. Let’s plaster them onto flyers and place them side by side. Let’s tell them in our places of worship. Let’s write songs and sing their souls to those who’ve never met them, so we can all feel that loss together. The Salt in Our Bread, many times over.
Let us grieve, and then let us find a way to heal together.