On a recent morning, I stood in front of our high school as a group of kids gathered to pray for a classmate who had just lost his father to COVID-19. Among restrained sniffles and quiet tears, I listened to a high school senior ask God for comfort and peace for the family. Many in this circle met again that afternoon at the cemetery to say goodbye to another dear friend taken too soon by COVID. Our little rural community, like many, is grieving. COVID is taking its toll.
As the students stood around the flagpole with eyes closed, heads bowed and faces adorned with masks, the principal stepped forward and closed the gathering with a short but poignant message about community, encouragement and love.
He praised the students for coming together on behalf of their classmate and then challenged them to not let it stop there. This circle was lined with teens of various ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and beliefs. All different but in need of the same thing: support, a kind word and love.
The principal took it a step further, challenging the kids to put others before themselves and to love those who are difficult to love.
Not a bad charge for 2021.
This afternoon at that graveside I watched as familiar, half-shrouded faces approached. I was reminded of the power of community, the affirmation of being known, the richness of having history with people. Roots. It was comforting to see those who have since moved away and those of us who still live here. Even adults need community.
Now, I'll be the first to admit, life in a small town isn't always romantic. If you live in one, you know what I'm talking about. There's something wonderful and yet challenging about relating with the same people with whom you go to school, church, the coop, little league, the cafe and local dollar store.
The blessing is you do life together. The struggle is you do life together. Every day. There's little opportunity for avoidance. It can get messy but overall, whether celebrating or grieving, we're better together.
As we begin a new year still entangled in uncertainty, I want to accept the administrator's challenge. I want to embrace community. I want to encourage more than I criticize, that includes not only what comes out of my mouth but what's in my heart. (I'm a mess most of the time, so I hope others will extend the same grace to me.)
And I want to love, especially those who are difficult to love. You realize we are all "that person" to someone, right? These are difficult times. We need each other.
What will headline 2021? Will it be COVID? Or will it be how Americans overcame, forgave, embraced and encouraged? I have a feeling it will be the latter. I'll keep you posted!