In Kolkata, it seems that there are an endless series of deaths. Death to self, being one of the most regular and painful aspects of life here. And then there are the departures of long terms friends and short-term friends and to the sense of loss that these comings and goings create. There are the physical deaths, losing dear friends to murder, HIV and addiction. The fragility of life crushed so easily in the grubby palms of a broken place among broken people. The death overwhelms at times. The losses feel like they might be too much to bear. One on top of the other, everyday there is some story of loss. A child has run away, a friend is left by her husband, another friend is being beaten, another is pulled from our embrace by addiction, my own personal failures and brokenness exhibited harming another, life in community sometimes causing us all pain, these daily losses complied feel a little like being buried alive, struggling for air. They are a tomb of sorts. A burial site that we live in feeling as if we have no choice but to sit in the darkness and let the pain roll over us.
And as we sit and mourn and rail against God with angry tears there comes a crack, a single steam of light, another type of story that disperses the darkness of the grave we live in. A story of freedom, of 18 year girls meeting a Sari Bari woman on the train and instead of being trafficked she get a real job, a path that she did not expect. A divine moment of grace, a hug, sometimes simply walking through the door into the embraces of friends, a kindness, an easy visit to a government office, the truth instead of a lie, silence instead of violence. The light comes in and everything changes. We see the losses amidst in the gifts, existing together and see how they make a strange kind of nonsense. Maybe just enough light so that long dormant seeds begin to sprout. The tomb becomes the womb.
The pain of losses 10 years in is a little different than it was in the first two years. Walking the train platforms, bringing in God’s beloved who were left to die in the streets and train platforms was devastating. There was not much hope in it. Just obedient acts of service, hands and feet, doing what hands and feet were meant to do. The losses were losses to be sure. Seeing what humans are capable of doing to one another is profoundly breaking. We brought in many many people who died in the Taxi on the way to the MC home. I brought in a young woman who had been raped, her bruises bringing tears to both our eyes as I washed away the blood and dirt. Her face still seared on my brain. We saw thousands and thousands of people walk by as someone died on a train platform. This was beginning of understanding the tomb. But we did not know many names or stories in this season, we were hands and feet and that was enough.
Ten years later, I know names and stories and the deaths are equally disturbing and far more painful. When Rina died, I lost my friend. I lost a part of myself, a part that was just for her. I know her story, I know what she left behind, I know that now she is a peace and hopefully cracking jokes and getting someone to make her some pasta and bring her some limes! Rina’s loss still hurts; maybe it will never stop hurting. And still even in the grief of herfuneral, her loss created something new in our community, another affirmation that we are a family, that we are not alone. For the 11% of our women with HIV, it affirmed that they are not alone and we will walk with them to death all the while celebrating their life. And when the time comes 80, 100 women and friends will gather around them, upholding their family and children after they are gone. The tomb becomes the womb.
There seems to be 20 stories of loss for every story of hope and new life. It would be easy to stop looking for the light and let the darkness overwhelm. Most of us here Kolkata have lived in this darkness for months and sometime years at a time. And the longer we are here, the more we can see the cracks (we have learned where to look), the places where the light is seeping in and even bursting in as the stone is rolled away, it’s impossible weight pushed back as if it were nothing. The tomb becomes the womb. It is not always Friday here. At least once a week Sunday comes and the tomb becomes a womb where new life is born, restoration, resurrection, and death is only fertilizer.
(Inspired by Mars Hill Easter Service-Tomb becomes the womb)