The first months of the pandemic were filled with grief for all that we had lost. We lamented the isolation, the fear of illness, the end of worship services and so many other changes to our lives. Gradually we have regained some connections, and life has taken on a new shape of careful engagement under restrictions of space and masks.
However, as we entered the fall, I have found myself grieving again—but for different reasons. This grief is not for what I have lost or miss. Rather it is for the painful reality of all that I have and enjoy that others do not. I am immersed in gratitude for so many privileges. I live in a country that is managing the pandemic relatively well and whose leadership is committed to the well-being of all its people. If I were to get sick, I enjoy a health care system that is available and skilled. I can work from home and have the resources to connect online whenever and wherever I need to. I do not fear violence due to my race. I live in relative peace and safety. Most things for which I am grateful are gifts. They have come to me because of where and when I was born. I did not choose them or earn them. Some came from my parents’ generation and others from the community around me, past and present, who work for the good of all.
I have taken advantage of the opportunities and gifts given, but I do not deserve them more than those who do not and cannot access them. At least once a week, and sometimes once a day, I receive an email from a refugee desperate to find a safe country. Their stories are heart-wrenching pleas for the safety of their own and their children’s lives.
I live in southwest Ontario, where so many migrant workers supply the food on our tables—yet are not protected adequately in their employment from COVID-19 or have sufficient job security to be able to raise a complaint. The privileges I enjoy are not equally shared within Canada, as Indigenous peoples know well.
So what do I do with the grief? I need first to live with gratitude and not take my privileges for granted, expressing thankfulness to God and to all who contribute to the safety, health and well-being I enjoy. Then I must ask, “How may I contribute to offering the same to others? How will I use the resources I enjoy of health, wealth, education and voice to assist in the change needed so that all will have what they need?”
Every parish I know that has sponsored a refugee family or assisted migrant workers has talked about what they have received, not what it cost, and have been enriched by their encounters. In a time when some talk only about protecting what we have, I pray that the Christian community will talk more about sharing and giving. Speak up for refugees; sponsor a family; support migrant workers in your community; write to your MP or MPP when policies that affect those on the margins are being written or changed; speak up for compassion and justice. That is what it means to fulfill our baptismal promise “to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.” Let’s open our eyes to see those who do not enjoy what we do and ask what needs to change. Let grief at the injustices around us energize our words and actions in the name of Christ!