Holiness in our Midst: Session 104

Holiness in our Midst


Story Circle Prompt: What insights can you share to help others cope with or face the negative impacts of COVID-19?

(Last month’s Story Circle Prompt was about the “positives” that have come out of the pandemic.) This month’s prompt addresses the very real negatives of this time. This column is my response:


Until a recent breakthrough experience, I could only begin to comprehend the (ever-growing) number on the righthand panel of my TV screen, the U.S. deaths from COVID-19. 

As I am writing this on the morning of April 22, it reads 570,299, according to CNN. 

Understanding the magnitude of our collective loss— and tending my personal grief— have been a necessary passage before fully entering Life after The Lockdown.

Others’ attempts to give face and voice to individual victims have helped along my process of fathoming the loss. Among them:

  • Nicole Wallace’s daily segments on MSNBC, “Remembering Lives Well-Lived,” often move me to tears.
  • Two national events, a vigil of lights at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to commemorate 400,000 lives lost on Jan. 19, inauguration eve, and President Biden’s address to the nation on Feb. 22 to remember 500,000 souls, were transformative. The former forever linked Leonard Cohen’s anthem, “Hallelujah,” my favorite song, to the pandemic.
  • A wall of 150,000 (and counting) red hearts in London, called the National Covid Memorial Wall by the Thames, captures the love the victims in the United Kingdom leave behind.

I have even calculated the losses in terms I can relate to, like coffee shops and small towns. If everyone in our country who died from the pandemic gathered on a Saturday morning, 30 to a location, they would fill 19,010 coffee shops. As for small towns, we have lost the equivalent of 23 small towns (of 500 persons) in every state. In Iowa, that would be Ellsworth, Collins, Zearing, Radcliffe and 19 more. You get the picture. Just today, by 4 p.m., 519 persons had already died, the equivalent of another small town, gone forever. 

In such ways, I have kept trying to make a visceral connection to the largely virtual experience of COVID-19. Remembering the victims as lights, flags, hearts and quilt squares was a start for me, but it was picturing the victims as “faces” that was the gateway to addressing my deep grief. 

Here is how my turning point happened. A couple weeks ago, I was awakened in the pre-dawn hours by a memory from June 4, 1993. In a waking dream, an exhibit called “100,000 Faces” came back vividly. I had seen it at Scheman Auditorium on the Iowa State University campus. (The photo exhibit was sponsored by the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church — Iowa Annual Conference and the Iowa Peace Network.) Jennifer Lindberg, 24, a Mennonite volunteer and originator of the exhibit, worked with volunteers to cut out 100,000 pictures of children and adults to create two- by four-foot panels for a mural to help people comprehend the number of human beings killed in the Persian Gulf War. I remembered that it took several hours to view only part of the exhibit. I remembered being overwhelmed by the montages of faces: Muslims praying. African women drawing water at wells. Japanese businessmen working in cities. Most of the images were of Americans at work and play because of the limited number of global images in available magazines. Yet the number of deaths became real and personal. (It is another story altogether that U.S. casualties were represented by two panels and other casualties — mostly from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and Palestine— by 448 panels.) In my dream, I understood again the tragedy and scope of overwhelming loss. 

My recent reminder of “100,000 Faces” has been a springboard to genuinely begin grieving the accumulated U.S. losses from COVID-19. It is an aid in imagining an exhibit almost six times its size. Panels with nearly 600,000 faces would create a mural over two miles long! So many lives, so abruptly interrupted! I need such visual imagery to grasp the magnitude of our interconnectedness.   

What do I plan to do with grief on this scale? Three things come to mind.

First, it being Earth Day as I write this, I plan to plant a tree sometime in the next year in honor of the victims.

Secondly, I designed a wristband that I plan to wear for a year. It is black with white lettering and reads, simply: I remember. 

Finally, I feel I owe it to those who are gone to live more mindfully and, yeah, to continue to wear a mask. I want to plan my re-entry carefully, like we were asked to do with vaccines. It is a privilege to just be alive and still invited to be here on Earth. Even though the world seems politically and environmentally quite messy, I have been spared to go out and make it better. And for that I am grateful.


  1. Read the above reflection. Answer the following in your journal: What have I learned from this time that might be of value to others?


      1.   Read aloud Session CIV.

      2.   Ask each person to answer the Story Circle Prompt. 

[View Past Sessions Here]

Note: Holiness in Our MidstSharing Our Stories to Encourage and Heal is a monthly on-line feature created by Janis Pyle to facilitate sharing of our personal experiences, thoughts, beliefs, and spiritual practices with one another, especially through stories. Barriers are broken down when we begin to see all persons, even those with whom we disagree ideologically, as sacred and constantly attended to by a loving Creator. Each column is accompanied by a “story circle” prompt and study guides for personal and group reflection. To share your stories, contact Hannah Button-Harrison at communications@nplains.org. Janis Pyle can be reached at janispyle@yahoo.com.

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