“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens
Easter came not with joyful gatherings to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, but rather counting the dead from COVID-19. There have been more than 14,000 who have died in New York City alone. Hospital workers are overwhelmed, emergency rooms are filled with abject fear and impending death. Those with the means left the city for safer environments.
Our firefighter son Max (FDNY) was on duty last week and came upon a man, only 43-years-old, who died before they could get him to hospital. For first responders the emotional as well as the physical pressure of “showing up” in this pandemic puts them all at risk. One-third of the FDNY is out with Covid-19, one-fourth of the cops, and one-half of the EMTs. Everyone is stretched to the limits, from the sanitation guys to grocery workers and postal workers, all trying to cope and serve.
Small acts of kindness are more frequent. I see more people willing to be kind and show helpfulness. On Easter morning, Sheila and I stood on our door stoop and sang “Christ the Lord has Risen today.” The only person on the street was a guy walking his dog, and he gave us a thumbs up and applauded. The shelters for homeless are closed (we have several just a few blocks from us), and that means the streets are now occupied with the homeless, most at risk of illness and diminishing in number. Down our street a colony of homeless found a place to lay their blankets; perhaps this is the most pathetic situation I have ever seen in all my years in NYC, people treated as if they were lepers, and personally devastating since I cannot get too close and help, as I once was able. Last Easter morning I approached some 10 to 12 homeless folks from a safe distance (with my mask and gloves) so that I could share the Good News of Easter Sunday. One guy dutifully cheered me on with an appropriate “Amen.”
After my Easter reflection, I invited each one to walk a block away to the corner deli, and directed them to line up outdoors six feet apart. I went inside and asked the deli owner, Mike Mustafa, to give them each a sandwich and beverage and that I would pay the bill....as usual (since I do this on a regular basis). Mike’s family is from Yemen (proud owners of three NYC delis and long ago abandoned Islam), and Mike has been my partner for several years in helping feed the homeless. He will often split the weekly cost with me for the occasional homeless man I direct to his corner Deli. I said “Mike, give them whatever they want and we’ll settle up later.”
Especially because of Coronavirus, for the next week, Mike and I continued to feed this “colony.” I approached the group the following Sunday and noticed that there were only three people, whereas last week there had been at least 10. ”Where is everyone?” I inquired. I was told, “at the hospital, and we think that Sammie is dead.”
Perhaps my greatest spiritual challenge is to see so many die without being comforted or prayed with or held during their last long breath. Homeless people were literally falling down on our sidewalk trying to make it to the emergency room a few blocks from my home. Unable to help them physically, I sadly watched as ambulances picked them up. I wanted to have given them last words of comfort and a reminder of the love of God and the hope of Christ.
I know each one of you has family challenges during this strange and unparalleled time. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and friendship. “He is not here; He is Risen!”
In Christ’s service,