John A. Smith
After the San Francisco earthquake in April 114 years ago, an 8-year-old girl saw her parents and others open their homes in Oakland to the people who fled the destruction across the Bay with just their lives. For Dorothy Day, it was a defining moment when she realized that the adults knew how to help each other all along. Day is one of my ‘sheroes’, a social activist who exemplified with her life what justice looked like. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she wrote “While the crisis lasted, people loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity. It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love.”
I thought of this story when I listened to Mayor Andre Rainey explain why he wrote the letter to community leaders last week, thanking them for their leadership and showing his vulnerability by acknowledging that he needs their help if Peekskill is to continue to be the vibrant city it was on its way to becoming before the pandemic stopped life as we knew it. Amid the devastation of San Francisco’s earthquake, the adults pulled together and helped each other. That’s what I see happening in Peekskill these days. First responders are reminded daily, through food and personal protective gear drop offs, that the community is grateful for the risks they take. Hospital employees are acknowledged, neighbors are shopping for neighbors, new ways of connecting are being formed.
Creating a new ritual is a powerful way to navigate through uncertain times, helping people cope with life’s groundlessness. Instead of banging pots and pans and singing every evening like residents of New York City do, I encourage all of us in this 4 square mile city of Peekskill to go to our sidewalks, to our windows, to the ends of our driveways at 8 o’clock every night with a lighted candle as a way to honor those whose lives were lost that day to the illness that is COVID 19. And in the silence of that moment, bring to mind with thankfulness those who are sacrificing their own health and safety to care for the sick and provide us with the essential services we rely on. Our quiet witness each evening is a way to nourish the soil where the seeds of how we emerge from this pandemic have been planted.