It was twenty years ago, during the time of Passover and Easter. With a small group of dear friends, I travelled to the home of my ancestors in Poland. It was springtime, just like now. We went to visit the small village, the shtetl, where my family came from. I asked people where the cemetery of the Jewish people was. They pointed to a hill on which daffodils bloomed. No other sign that people had been shot and buried there. It was drizzling. Jerome held an umbrella over my head as I bent to the earth and gathered some of it with my hands and put it into a little medicine bottle. I keep that bottle of soil to be buried with me so that my ancestors will finally have a proper place to rest. Later, I sat opposite the oldest person in the village. She sat propped up in her bed, a kerchief over her white hair. Her daughter translated: Did you know the Stiker family, I asked. “No, but the morning they took those mothers and children to shoot them, I took many of them into my house. “In my gut, I knew this old woman was lying and yet I said, “thank you for helping my people’. I felt that at the threshold of her dying, her heart spoke what it wished it had done. I honored what I took to be the longing of her spirit to do its part to set a tragedy right. Even though I should not have spoken for souls that were murdered and no longer able to speak for themselves, although they are the only ones to truly forgive, I could not help but feel that we each can turn, out of our sorrow and longing, to cherish the life that has been so terribly hurt and make repair wherever and whenever possible.
The next day, yet another sun dazzling spring day, we went to visit a concentration camp. We walked through the rooms, like through a museum, until we came to the last one. Here, enclosed in exhibit windows were collected all variety of suitcases. In another, all variety of shoes, women’s, men’s children’s. Behind the glass, I spotted a pair of blue Mary Jane shoes, a pair a child must have gotten with her mother to wear proudly and feel beautiful in. Some child who did not live to wear them more than a few times, for they looked brand new. She turned to smoke instead. This was the end of the ‘tour’. We exited and came out into the sunlight to see people, young and old, strolling hand in hand, carrying picnic baskets. The bright sunlight and the bucolic scene scalded me, seemed surreal, obscene, in the face of what we had just witnessed. This is the part I will never forget: I watched my right hand as if it had a life all its own, as it did. My eyes lifted to watch it as it slowly raised itself up the heavens as I screamed from the depth of me: how is this possible! My hand raising, beseeching, How is this possible! How can such horror be side by side with springtime’s sunlight and strolling. How is this possible! I screamed and cried and my friends held me so that I did not fall to the ground.
Now, so many years later, during this corona pandemic that has overwhelmed our entire world, once again I find my hand raising itself up to the heavens, saying, how is this possible! I am stunned, sorrowful, and frightened. I am trying to understand, to make some sense, to tell myself a story of what is happening across the whole world.
Before the coronavirus arrived, refugees were drowning in the seas of Europe while seeking safety. Thousands are living in refugee camps without being able to take safe distance. Today, there are children sitting in detention centers at the Mexican border, crowded together, without being able to wash their hands while singing happy birthday twice. There are homeless people who cannot clean their clothes or their food or their bodies. Then, there are the privileged, like me, who have a sink and can sing happy birthday, who can wear a mask and gloves, who can take care in this terrible time. I am sorrowful for all those who I cannot take into my house before they become sick and die so that they do not have to suffer.
Now, during this pandemic, the earth cries. The Amazon is hurt beyond repair, Australian forests on fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, fires. The air hurts. The waters and the living creatures in them hurt. All for human desire to take what it can, to rule over the Web of Creation. My right hand raises: How is it possible! Creatures of the land and sea made extinct by human power and greed. It hurts so to feel the suffering of the Web of Life. It is springtime. It feels so sacred to see the forsythia blooming and the lilac bush budding. To hear the birds singing. Green wants to grow. Life longs to live.
Now, in the midst of this terrifying nightmare that goes on and on without end, gets worse and worse, the all-powerful virus rules, the one who wears a crown cloaked in ominous silence. I see my hand raise to the heavens. I cry out: how is this possible.
In this nightmare from which there seems no waking a door opens into a dream. I pass thru the door. Now, I am walking on a ridge of the Rocky Mountains. In the silence of dawn I hear the sound of drumming I look down from the edge of the cliff I see thirty- six long- bearded buffalo walking slowly, one behind the other in walking meditation, their hooves drumming heavy on the earth. They have been walking this way for a very long time, perhaps forever. I know that their drumming the earth is what holds this world together, what keeps us alive. I lift my arms and cry up to the heavens “the buffalo are not extinct!! They were not destroyed totally”. A prayer of thanks raised up to the heavens. I stand there with tears, for a long time, in awe to see the buffalo drumming the sacred earth. Still alive
From a far distance rising on the horizon with the light of day, I hear a clear merciful voice, filled with love. It is the voice of an elder of the very first people bringing a message, a plea, a prayer. I hear her say: Dear ones, this crowned virus is one of your ancient ancestors. It is not evil. It is only doing what it does. All of Creation is calling out to you,
“Come home to be part of us. You have forgotten what you were created to be. You were created to hold a great trust, to take care of, to protect all of life, to serve all life so that it may not come to harm. Somehow, you have lost your way. You have forgotten why you are here. You have taken over rather than taken care and so have tipped the balance of Creation. You have lost your way and have wounded and terrified and killed the living land and waters and air and forests and the creatures. Please turn and return to be a part of all that is sacred and calls for your care.”
Her voice is filled with love and sorrow as she goes on speaking with the coming of dawn. “Creation waits for you to return toward it. Through your lack of reverence, you destroy the land and waters and air and its creatures. The virus with the corona is holding a mirror for you to come to know in your deep hearts how the earth and waters and air and forests and all the creatures feel as they suffer and die and become extinct. Creation is waiting for you to be who you were created to be, to be loving caretakers of all living. Creation waits for all to be One.
Your ancestors are letting you know that it is almost too late for you. The buffalo can drum the earth in prayer to keep it alive only so much longer May you heed the calling well! All of Creation is waiting for you to fulfill your destiny, to give your love and honoring to all Being, to take all living beings into your heart, to protect all life. May it be so that you feel a broken heart that opens to tend to the web of Creation. May all life find refuge in the hearts of you humans, so that this world may be as One in the Great Love. Even the virus is waiting.”