• BridgingBorders

The Goodbyes We Say, by Paul Dass, S.J.

Mother Earth will resurrect them.


There is trauma and, then, there is trauma. The image of refrigerated container trucks backed up against the mortuary exits of hospitals (overrun in their mortuary capacity) to collect bodies so as to store them while awaiting burial or cremation in mass graves or by some other anonymous means is one sight that leaves the observer immobilized and cut short of breath.

The view of satellite pictures of mass graves dug, whether in Tehran or Wuhan or New York, is one that, though, once upon a time, associated only with acts of war crimes, whether in World War II, or in Rwanda or Srebrenica, so as to conceal those very crimes, but today in the age of Covid has become the only practical solution possible, is a picture from above that shocks and disturbs.

The sight of mourners sitting in their cars, distanced away while a member of the family is being buried, weeping, uncontrollably, reaching out as only they can with stretched heart strings of love, unable to see the face of the beloved for one last time for one last goodbye – or, the woman, who wails at the death of a mother, who happened to pass away just around now, not for reasons of Covid, but of simply old age – and for whom a rightful funeral with family and friends may not be held, but, requiring, nevertheless, an answer to her existential outcry “why,” – why at this time – is again another moment that cleaves the soul and leaves the mourner unanswered and bereft.

All put together, how can we all be forcibly rent apart and torn away from our bodies: there is something collective in all these images, all these instances, when the mass disposal of the human corpus and the anonymous dispatch of the human remains – clinically expedited in necessary PPE – speaks to us, even if only momentarily, about our distanciation from our own bodies, no matter how much in possession we are of them at this moment. The philosopher Gabriel Marcel said: We are our bodies and we have our bodies, in some kind of existential continuum. But somewhere along the line, that continuum falls, fails. And then, what do we have left? And then, what are we?

The earth, too, is our body: not only in the morbid sense, in that, when dead, we get buried into the earth or our ashes come to settle thereupon, but, more so, here and now, in the living moment, when we consciously become – that is, choose ‘being,’ or, a further way to ‘being’ – locked in its elemental embrace, as mother to child - if only we choose. So, the body is as big as the earth, and is the earth. To this belonging, we can heighten our consciousness.

Somewhere there, we are elementally owned. Only there and only then, with that primeval assurance, can we even begin to separate ourselves from our bodies, knowing that we will be reconciled and restituted. Only there will we know that our bodies are forever.

If Mother Earth claims her own, then she shall surely reinstate what’s hers’. Then no human body will be lost in vain, no human remains will be wiped off the face of the earth. No mass dispatch of any anonymous kind will be lost to memory. The memory will be buried deep inside the soul, the soul of the earth. Not one life, therefore, of the past, or of the present, or of any future, will ever be set aside. Mother Earth will resurrect them.

If we say goodbyes these day, even from a distance or through a glass darkly, for that is what monitor screens are, it is with the assurance that what remains is returned to where it preternaturally belongs. It remains. That is where we belong, in the first place. And, so, we raise a glass of salutation, for we remember, recognize, and rise in acknowledgement of who she is, Mother Earth, that is, and whom she claims and whom she restitutes. For she is ours, and we are her’s. And she, Mother Earth, has no boundaries or borders in this regard. She is all ours and we are all her’s. And, so, our goodbyes are not forever; not even to our own bodies.

But, to still the moment and to allow time itself to commemorate, and, perhaps, heal, there is the soulful rendition by Alisa Weilerstein of the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor that sings of its goodbye and sears its soul de profundis.


Reflection 4 on the COVID-19 pandemic.


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