“The same way there is a BC and an AC (before Christ and after Christ), there will be a BP and an AP. Before the Pandemic and After the Pandemic.” As I balance my cell phone against a wall in the kitchen and leave floured fingerprints on the screen, Papi uses his long arms to hold out the phone in front of him and continue his speech. “If we come out of this thing, Nia, if we survive it and we are exactly the same as when we walked into it, we missed the entire point.”
These days in Quarantine all seem to blur together, so I really can’t tell you whether he shared these words of wisdom before or after we found out about the passing of Pastor Raul Barcia. Mami FaceTimed me twice on Friday, and when I finally found a moment to call her back, her tear-stained face and heavy sobs let me know that we had lost someone before she ever spoke the words.
I’m not really sure what will happen to his body. I’ve heard stories of people leaving their loved ones at the hospital entrance only to receive ashes in the mail a few days later. I want to believe that he won’t be buried on Hart Island with thousands of other corpses because our Mayor promises that “the only people being buried there are those who have not been claimed by a family member or a loved one.”
Raul is survived by his wife of 46 years, Patricia (or Patty as those of us who have come to love her call her in endearment), and three kids. I don’t know how Patty is either. Her closest friend orders Uber Eats to her doorstep three times a day and spends hours in silence held over a phone line. The truth is Patty has stopped picking up most phone calls or responding to texts. She is home alone battling her own diagnosis of COVID-19 while one of her sons also fights the same plague that took her husband’s life. They are all attempting to begin the process of grieving. My throat is thick with emotions anytime I try to imagine the weight of their sorrow.
What does grief without hugs look like?
Mami cried to me over the phone Friday afternoon. She gasped for air in between her words. “Hija … I’m … so … sad … and I can’t even be there for my friend… I can’t … see her.” She returned to her bought of crying, and I let her feel the pain. Because I know that is what we must do. We must reckon with the weight of the world around us if we are to learn anything at all.
After talking to both my parents, I FaceTimed my sister and my cousin. None of us muttered a word for the first three minutes. We just cried. Eventually, Chiquita broke the silence, “I wish I could be there with you all right now.” We went on to weep some more.
I Facetimed my younger cousin the next day, and the sadness greeted me before she did. She told me how she rewatched the video of her baptism and, right next to my father in the water, was Pastor Raul Barcia. “Every time I see a picture or think about him, it just makes me sad all over again,” she whispered from the dark of her room. “I know,” I whispered back, “I know.”
“His body has perished but his spirit will live on. All you can do is carry on the legacy of love he modeled for you,” I advise her gently.
We will miss your Sunday greetings.
The affection of your handshakes and embraces.
Your wisdom, friendship, and mentorship.
Pastor – I know you’re on the mountaintop. I know you are no longer in pain. I know, I know, I know… but that doesn’t change the ache you’ve left behind. Mami says she will miss the warmth of your smile when you welcomed anyone and everyone into the church building. She says no one said “Bienvenido” with as much enthusiasm as you. Papi says you were in his top five of all time, one of the good ones. You inspired him to live in integrity. And even though he will miss the way you called him “baronsisimo” every Sunday morning, he will carry pieces of you for all the days he has left to live.
Life will never be the same again after the pandemic (AP.) That’s probably the only thing I’m sure of at this point. And sadly, even those of us who have found salvation on this side of heaven aren’t safe. We can pray for mercy, but we also pray for God’s will to be done, and when it is our time, there is nothing left to do but surrender. Those of us left behind will mourn. We will grieve in waves of the oceans we didn’t know existed inside of us.
I’m writing all of this on Easter morning. The day that we celebrate the grand resurrection. Today is supposed to be a day of rebirth, renewal, and a restoration of hope in the future. For a lot of us, that hope feels muddied. It feels like nothing even matters anymore. Money will not save us. Work will not save us. The boxes of supplies, clothes ,and shoes we bought on sale will not save us.
“I will give you riches hidden in the darkness and things of great worth that are hidden in secret places. Then you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.” – Isaiah 45:3
I don’t pretend to know why this is all happening, but in healing from a lot of childhood trauma, I have learned how God can use the worst of our pain to lift us up. He has shown me how he can use the darkness and secret places in my life for his glory and for the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20) He has called me by my name and I suspect if you are reading this, he is calling you too. I believe that he can use the darkness we are experiencing collectively to ripple a deep and lasting change that our society is in desperate need of.
This time in Quarantine has brought me to reflect on the truth that we MUST return to love. That the only salvation or solace I will find in this mad world is in my faith and the promises that God makes. I want to live each day giving out the love that is so mercifully given to me each day. I want to hold space for the complexities of other people’s identities and feelings because that is what the Lord has done for me.
Now I turn the question to you. How will you be called to change during this Pandemic? What is God trying to tell you? There’s a revelation somewhere in this darkness waiting to be discovered. Don’t let it pass you by.