My friend Mark and his wife Cathy were coming home on a mid-March Saturday from the sad burden of the funeral of their 42-year-old daughter Margaret.
Margaret, a wife and the mother of three children, 5 and younger, had died of breast cancer a week and a half earlier in her Holland, MI, home. She was, says Mark, the sort of person who “let everyone know they mattered.” Because of the coronavirus restrictions, services were at her graveside. And there was no way that our Catholic parish in the Edgewater community could hold a memorial service for her.
Nonetheless, when Mark and Cathy finished their doleful 150-mile drive from Michigan, they arrived to find every house in their 1400 block of Norwood Street alight with candles for them and for their daughter. It was, says Mark, “an act of sweet kindness. Every house on the block put out a candle. You can be so close and still keep your distance.”
Lighting a candle of sweet kindness
We are in a hard time now, and things are likely to get worse before they get better. We hope and we pray that no one we know, no loved one, no friend, gets the coronavirus, and that we don’t either. We don’t know how close it will come, but we know people are dying, here in Chicago and around the country and around the world.
I want to take all those candles on Norwood Street as a model for myself in these coming days. I want to light a candle of sweet kindness wherever I can.
One way is simply to call people, or text them, or use any of the multitude of other communication methods we have today to keep in touch. No one should be left alone, isolated, lonely.
I’m from a big family, and, on Sunday, we had a Zoom session of more than an hour that involved about 20 devices and probably 30-35 people. It was a lot of fun, but there was sober talk, too. Some of us are out of work, and at least five of us work in hospitals and nursing homes. There are several women in the family who are due to give birth in the coming months. In fact, during the Zoom session, my niece Maggie happily showed off her pregnancy bump, and then did it again for late arrivals.
These sorts of virtual group sessions — and there are many ways, audio or video, to do that, I’m learning — are wonderful for friends, co-workers and family get together to joke, gossip, commiserate and kvetch.
“Let everyone know they matter”
There are people who don’t have such a wide social network, especially those who are retired or elderly or already homebound. A phone call or other virtual contact is likely to be a bright spot in their day. And, really, any of us is going to enjoy hearing from another human being during this time of government-mandated separation. Like Mark’s late daughter, we can “let everyone know they matter.”
It’s a kindness to call. It’s lighting a candle of sweet kindness.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to operate on the idea that, if someone’s name comes to mind for a call, I should call. Those I call seem to like it, and it makes me feel less isolated, that’s for sure.
I hope people call me, too. My wife and I have hunkered down, and we’re doing pretty well to get along and keep out of each other’s hair and enjoy our time together. But it’s nice to hear some other voice.
We’ve been sitting on our front porch a lot more, even though the weather’s been a bit nippy. It’s good to get out from inside those four walls of our home. And it’s good to be able to say hi to passersby. There’s a feeling that’s palpable that we’re all in this together.
In this together
Of course, we really are in this together. In the face of the coronavirus, there is no poor or rich, no white or black, no straight or gay, no class structure, no in-groups, no immigrants, no Republicans or Democrats, no Americans or French or Chinese or Afghans or Italians or Angolans or Iraqis or Australians.
We are all, each one of us, confronting this pandemic. Each of us has no protection if this virus attacks. Each of us is awash with fears and anxieties, for ourselves and those we love.
Each of us recognizes this. A U.S. senator can contract coronavirus, and so can a homeless woman. You can, and I can. So, now is the time for each of us to follow the example of the Norwood Street neighbors.
Now is the time for each of us, whenever we can, to light a candle of sweet kindness.
Patrick T. Reardon
This essay originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on 3.24.20.