Looking to Advent as we grieve our COVID-19 dead
Lament and longing can be companions.
In her 1993 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison meditated on what language can and can’t do. It can’t, she said, “pin down” anything. Instead, language reaches. “Its force, its felicity, is in its reach toward the ineffable. Be it grand or slender, burrowing, blasting, or refusing to sanctify, whether it laughs out loud or is a cry without an alphabet—the choice word, the chosen silence—unmolested language surges toward knowledge, not its destruction.”
In this issue, we’ve asked several writers to reflect on the loss of those killed by COVID-19. These words have been written for the specific task that Morrison lays out: to reach toward the ineffable. How do we talk about the deaths of more than a million people worldwide and hundreds of thousands in the United States? What words do we have to speak about the deaths of our neighbors, our grandparents, those we knew and those who were strangers to us? How do we honor those who are working around the clock to save lives, find solutions, care for the sick? Can words help us? Can we use the power of language to aid, encourage, and heal?
Advent is a particularly compelling time to attempt this reach. During Advent, often called the little Lent, Christians meditate on the world as it is and the world as it might be. We enter a period of self-reflection—not just about our individual selves but also about our social body and the fabric that holds us together. In Advent we are pointed beyond the present moment and our small selves toward the bigger story of which we are a part.