Honoring the Lost From Every Walk of Life
The hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by COVID-19 continue to mount as I write this in the last days of 2020. May we all make honoring the lost a part of our year-end reflections. For the families and friends of those people, they are the most important losses of the year. Each of these deaths is a loss to a family, a circle of friends, a community, and often beyond that.
Some of them were health care workers – doctors, nurses, specialty technicians, food service, maintenance staff – who served in specific locations. Also lost were other “essential workers” who continued to do their jobs that allowed life to continue at some level – paramedics, police officers and firefighters; grocery store and other retail employees; providers of transportation and city services and more. They are all heroes and martyrs on another level this year.
We are overwhelmed and numbed by the sheer numbers. It is largely incomprehensible. I found this article with multiple visuals helpful in grasping this reality: Breaking Down the Numbers I hope we can take some time to remember and honor these victims of a horrible pandemic that still grips our country and the world.
Honoring the Lost Whose Names are Well Known
We have also lost people whose names are known by millions of us – some related to COVID-19 but most not. They are known for their various contributions to our national identity or culture. Musicians, actors, artists, other entertainers, leaders in civil rights and government, athletes, journalists, authors, scientists, and more. They are people whose talents and skills enrich us in multiple ways.
The television networks feature lists and photos that stream past us as they recap the year as usual. Magazines and newspapers will provide their selection of notables. Who are the people you wish to particularly remember as they leave this dimension?
For me, the loss of three lifelong Civil Rights leaders are at the top of the list. The recognition and honoring of John Lewis, 80, was most visible to all of us. His lifelong activism, beginning when he was very young, through 30 years in Congress left a huge list of accomplishments and a legacy of leadership.
T. Vivian, 95, one of Lewis’s compatriots in the movement died the very same day and sadly we didn’t hear enough of his life and contributions. He grew up in Illinois and Missouri and was involved in a sit-in to integrate lunch counters in 1947! As a student at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee, he became involved in sit-ins, marches and the Freedom Rides. He organized affiliate organizations to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Nashville and other cities. He moved to Atlanta in the 1970s and from that point organized and headed multiple educational, activist and business organizations focused on equality and access.
Joseph Lowry, 98, died at the end of March when the pandemic was gobsmacking all of us. He was involved in the group of ministers around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that was so key to so many of the advances of those years. He served as the president of SCLC from 1977 to 1997, leading campaigns for justice in multiple states at a time when it was difficult to get media attention to this work. He pastored Methodist churches for nearly 50 years.
Another giant lost was Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87. Her death and legacy were covered extensively, and we learned more about her contributions during those days. From being only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States to being a pop culture icon in her eighties, she was amazing. Her legal activism on behalf of equal rights for women extended over decades.
Why do I highlight these four? Prime among my reasons are their dedication to values and causes that motivated long lives of contribution.
A trailblazer of another kind also died this year – Lucille Bridges, 86. Hers is a unique story of having her 6-year-old daughter, Ruby Bridges, be one of the first children in the south to integrate an elementary school. Lucille was 26 years old when she and her husband made that bold and difficult decision in 1960 New Orleans. Through an entire school year, she walked Ruby to school with white people jeering and federal troops protecting them. No white students would be in a classroom with Ruby, so for the entire school year she and the one teacher willing to teach her were in a classroom alone together. The family paid a steep price for this bold action. Ruby’s father lost his job as a service station attendant when he wouldn’t withdraw her from the school. The local grocery store stopped selling to them. Lucille’s parents in Mississippi were forced from the land they sharecropped. Ultimately the stress and conflict caused Lucille and her husband to separate. The courage and persistence of this family which included eight children is an example that needs to be shared.
I encourage you to reflect on these and other losses of 2020. How do their stories inspire you? The Washington Post’s “Notable Deaths of 2020” provides information on the above and others: Notable deaths of 2020 – The Washington Post