It surprised me, the catch in my throat. In the last year we’d visited that playground almost 100 times. But today was different. A year ago today, the playground equipment was roped off. We brought our own toys from home and played with no other kids. There was an uncertainty and anxiety that hung in the air. Isolation. Today was different. Almost normal. We played with other kids (cousins, masked) and had little worry of what tomorrow’s news may bring. But the specter of last year lingered.
It caught in my throat again as we drove home, winding down streets that I had walked every day last spring, desperate to get out of the house. I’ve been avoiding those streets. I didn’t realize till that moment. After we moved to our new house in July, I had taken another route to our old neighborhood park, unconsciously avoiding the streets that I wandered day after day when the world shut down. But now one year later, vaccinated and watching something like normal life return, I could feel last March in my chest, catching my breath, not letting me go.
Trauma specialists, like Dr. Anita Phillips, call these anniversary reactions, aftershocks of trauma that well up inside us. She says, “Our bodies remember and will wake up and begin to mourn before our minds do.”
We are all in for a lot of these aftershocks in coming months. Days when our breath catches for seemingly no reason, when we are sad or anxious and can’t quite put a finger on it.
The Church needs to be prepared to walk through the aftershocks, within our walls and without.
We have lost much in the last year, to varying degrees individually- family members, jobs, relationships, celebrations, health, even churches.
But we have lost as a people as well- virtually the whole of humanity. A world-wide pandemic, with its great human and social and financial costs. Wildfires and ice storms, political and civil strife, an explosion in the heart of a city already in turmoil that destroys already too scarce food supplies, racial sorrows and tensions, and on and on.
I can think of no corner of the earth that has been untouched by a season of tragedy, no people or person unscathed in the trauma of the last 12 months.
Church members, neighbors, pastors, friends, strangers.
Grief is great. For most of us, greater than we have yet begun to realize. We’ve been focused on surviving the storm. Now what?
And though we are ready to turn the page (I know I am) our bodies will remember. They are designed that way. And they won’t let us forget. Our stories are shaped by the last year now, all of us. “Unprecedented times” written on our hearts and in our bodies like a marker. And whatever happens next will be in the context of those stories.
Are we prepared to care for a world recovering from trauma and grief? Are we prepared to navigate it ourselves as ministers, teachers, parents, and leaders? Are we even prepared to recognize it when it resurfaces, aftershocks rippling through our lives and our communities?
We would be wise to be prepared- to lean into remembrance and lament, for our own sakes and for the sake of our neighbors and for the Gospel made known.
It is biblical to remember, to grieve and mourn, and to sit alongside those who do.
The Psalms are full of grief and loss- both individual and corporate. The Prophets too. Scripture is replete with loss and calls to remember. And even Jesus sits at the grave of His friend and grieves, knowing that He holds the power of Life and death in Himself.
He mourns first, then makes real the hope of the Resurrection.
This is part of why Jesus’s death during Passover matters so much.
We like to skip to Easter, to deliverance. But Passover is not only a story of deliverance, it is a story of loss. Of death. Of great sorrow and suffering, remembered.
The hope of Passover is inseparable from the pain of it.
This is the hope of the Gospel, of death and new life, pain and promise intermingled. Of facing the truth of where we have been, how it’s shaped us and taken from us, with scars but also with salvation. In our lament we proclaim- this is not as it should be! and prophesy the One who sets all things right.
Proclaiming that darkness cannot overcome light requires us to remember how the darkness feels- even in the light, for the sake of those still under the shadow in need of comfort and company.
I thought of the story of Passover as I walked alone back to our old neighborhood after the playground. I wanted to walk those streets that I had wandered everyday- for months the only times I left my house. Streets that I had avoided, purposefully, trying to escape them. Until my body made me remember.
I walked long, purposefully, to remember. To listen to the playlist I made last March, clinging to the Truth of God’s goodness and grace. To see how much had changed, how much remained the same on those familiar streets. To cry behind my sunglasses like I did so many days last spring. To lean into the grief and the loss, to lament the days and all that they took.
Because remembering is part of Resurrection Hope.
To remember that wandering and restlessness eventually lead to a promised home. That fear and anxiety are eventually ended in peace everlasting. That isolation and loneliness are eventually satisfied in presence. And that death and sorrow and every wasted day are eventually restored in hope made perfect.
As we get closer to celebrating Easter, celebration of our Resurrection Hope, let’s not forget to help each other to remember.
*For resources on trauma and grief, so many mental health professionals (like @DrAnitaPhillips on IG and Twitter) are accessible and will interact with direct messages.
Or even better, reach out to a trauma or grief counselor in your area. Invite them to speak to your church or do some group sessions over the course of a few months. Have times of remembrance together, especially on anniversaries of losses that had to be suffered in isolation. Point people toward places to get help. Church leader- join a group or find a counselor for yourself. Remember well. And wait for Resurrection.*
Emily serves and lives in Norman, Oklahoma. You can follower her on Twitter at @hoopersnook.