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A World of Grief and Possibility

Every year, everything I have learned in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know, To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, To let it go—Mary Oliver

In Buddhism, the first tenet of the Four Noble Truths is that there is suffering. As conscious human beings, this is an inescapable fact. I will suffer. You will suffer. There will be collective suffering. Certainly, 2020 brought this sobering fact to bear for millions upon millions of people around the globe.

Since the dawn of man, every generation has had its fair share of turbulent times, suffering, and hard lessons learned. My generation— that of the Baby Boomers, was no exception, nor will exceptions be made for subsequent generations. Certainly, the current generation has not been spared. Over the course of history, wars have been waged, economies have collapsed, there has been wide scale genocide and famine—all of which have claimed the lives of millions upon millions of people and impacted the lives of millions more, with no end in sight. But never in the course of modern history has one event impacted life on earth as swiftly and profoundly as Covid-19. In less than ONE year, this insidious virus spread across the globe wreaking havoc in the lives of nearly all 7 billion people who currently inhabit it. That, in and of itself, is an unprecedented occurrence. By now, most of us have either lost a loved one to the virus, or we know of someone who has. As of January 8, 2021, 85,614,877 people have been stricken with the Covid-19 Virus. Over 1,884,331 people have lost their lives to the virus and there are 23,190,000 active cases. The collective inhumanity of the virus and the deep ramifications it has had in people’s lives is beyond words.

Here in America, we have watched in horror and anguish as Covid tore through nursing homes and ravaged our beloved elders. We have seen body bags being loaded into freezer trucks, and have seen the haunted eyes of overwhelmed and exhausted healthcare professionals as they battle furiously and courageously, oftentimes without proper PPE, to keep this invisible enemy from taking one more life. But they and we have lost so many, and the death toll continues to spiral upward. We have watched as our scientists and researchers have scrambled to understand the nature of the virus and how to stop it in its tracks. We have been forced to stay away from our loved ones, and we have been forced to let loved ones die alone; with only a compassionate health care worker in full PPE; faceless with only their eyes exposed—to hold their hand as they take their last breath. We have had to bear the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression; people losing their businesses, their jobs, and their dreams. Referred to as the “other twin pandemic,” homelessness and hunger, our homeless number have skyrocketed, and the lines at food banks across the country are unprecedented. Our confused children have had to be home schooled, necessitating huge accommodations and shifts by their already overtaxed parents. When we do leave our homes, we’re all dehumanized faces behind a mask that serves only to further distance us from each other. No one sees us smile. We can’t embrace. We can’t hug or kiss. We can no longer even shake hands! Large gatherings or celebrations of any kind, whether they be joyful or tearful, are frowned upon, as is most travel.

Sadly, Covid wasn’t the only enemy that confronted us in 2020. On May 25th, the scab on a deep wound that over the decades, had never fully healed, was violently ripped off. For me, that day felt eerily reminiscent of those bygone years of my youth watching the horrors of war and socio/political unrest unfold on my family’s TV screen. Between the rapid fire media coverage of the burgeoning pandemic and millions of Americans in full lockdown, we were glued to our TV’s and other social media outlets. That said, not ONE of us EVER in our wildest imaginations expected to witness the coldblooded murder of an innocent man. But there we were—a captive audience overcome by sheer incredulity and disbelief as we watched the murder of a black man by a white police officer. The officer, Derek Cauvin, had George Floyd pinned to the ground with his knee pressed firmly on Floyd’s neck. For eight agonizing minutes, we watched in horror as Floyd pleaded, unsuccessfully for his life, saying to the officer over and over again, the words, “I can’t breathe.”

From that moment forward, we could no longer live in The Land of Denial. We’d just gotten the wake-up call, as millions of us bore witness to the now inescapable truth that the deep wound of racism and social injustice against people of color is still raw, festering and infectious, and that its poison is still coursing through the veins of America, in particular, through the veins of our criminal justice system. The more things change…

The year 2020 literally brought us a world of hurt; of loss and grief—of pain and suffering. A way to reconcile the loss of so many lives due to the virus does not exist. And, there is no way to assuage the profound grief of the millions of loved ones left behind. There are no words that could adequately convey the heartbreak of so many loved ones dying alone, or for loved ones who had to find some way to accept that. There is no way that our hearts don’t break knowing that so many are hungry, or have lost their jobs, and/or their homes. It is unconscionable. Each of us is duty-bound to honor and grieve each victim of Covid in our own way and help shepherd one another through our collective loss. This is the necessary first step if we are ever to begin to heal as a nation and a world.

It felt as though all the pain, loss, and suffering of past generations was consolidated into one year.Even my 92-year-old mom, who survived the Great Depression and a World War says it was the hardest year of her life. But, here’s the irony: even though we were forced apart; to socially distance, as individuals and collectively we were never more connected to each other than we were last year. Covid united the entire world. We stood shoulder to shoulder against a common enemy that cares not who we are, what we do, what we look like, or how old we are. It doesn’t discriminate. You and I and just about every person alive, was forced to reckon with this scourge that turned our lives upside down. But, just like the activists of the 60s, there is strength in numbers, and we have all come together as ONE to stand strong and find our way through this! Our heroes—the front line workers, healthcare professionals, scientists, and yes, even our local and federal governments, have all banded together to hold the torch that will continue to be the beacon of hope that will see us through the rest of these desperate, dark days of Covid.

On both a personal and global level, Covid transformed us. Of that, there can be no doubt. We’ve endured some of the harshest days, weeks, and months of our lives, together! The bell has been rung, and it can never again be un-rung. Truths have been revealed. Hard lessons have been learned. There is so much need in the world, and it is up to each of us to be the change we wish to see in it. Sadly, after more than five decades later, some of the same battle cries that rang out in the 1960s ring out again today—Civil Rights! Equal Rights! Equal Pay for Women! Environmental Protections! Equal Justice!

Time is precious and we’re wasting it. There is no going back. There is no standing down. This is no time to play life safe. We have a lot of work to do and we’re all being called forth to do it. If we stand together behind worthy causes that we’re passionate about, and we never give up the fight, imagine the great things we can accomplish together! “Is this possible?” you might ask. Well, take it from someone who lived it. If growing up in The Sixties taught me anything, it’s best represented in this ubiquitous quote from that era by Eldridge Cleaver from his book Soul on Ice, published in 1968: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” All of us, myself included, could use Cleaver’s words as our mantra for change. We are in a “world of grief and hurt,” but we can find the solutions we need to solve the myriad problems that challenge us as individuals and as a collective body inhabiting one fragile planet

The year 2020, a harsh beginning to a new decade, is now “history.” Metaphorically, we might look upon the year as a deeply disliked teacher who gave us almost impossible to complete homework lessons only to realize at the end of the semester, those hard lessons were some of the greatest and most impactful we had ever learned. As a child of a generation that was filled with hope and a fervent conviction that we could change the world, my optimism remains, along with a strong belief that we not only CAN do it again, but the need THAT we do it again has never been greater. I pray that collectively, we never forget the good, the bad, and the ugly lessons of 2020. I pray as we all move forward in life, that we commit to JUST DO BETTER. We can ALL be part of the solution tackling the problems together. It’s possible. I know. I lived the dream long ago. No more time to pay lip service to this famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi, we need to LIVE it every single day…one person at a time, beginning today.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”



Doug Houston
Doug Houston

Karen, Thanks for this incredibly insightful reflection of being an human being through a time of suffering and challenge world wide. Poignant thoughts on how we can each individually take responsibility to be “part of the solution”.



Karen, you have absolutely nailed it all. The grief, the challenge the possibility and most of all the hope that we can make our world better. God Bless and thank you for this insightful and important blog.

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