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One Year Later, Emerson Grieves Pandemic Losses, Honors Wisdom Gained

MJ Halberstadt reading in front of table, in front of window
Affiliated faculty member MJ Halberstadt, an organizer of the COVID-19 vigil, speaks in front of the remembrance table set up in 172 Tremont Street.

By Zenebou Sylla ‘22

Emerson’s Center for Spiritual Life last week held a virtual community vigil, A Space for Grief and Reflection, to acknowledge and honor the losses and complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic over the course of the past year.

The Center of Spiritual Life arranged the Friday, March 26, ceremony in collaboration with Visual and Media Arts affiliated faculty member MJ Halberstadt ‘10 and student Patty Tamayo ’21.

Halberstadt said the inspiration for creating this space came from the book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, by Valarie Kaur, as a part of the “A Book Club Won’t Save Us” faculty and staff book club, offered through the Social Justice Center.

“Kaur’s description of the need to grieve is what motivated us to create this space. We realize that year in particular, we have a need to grieve and that we miss an opportunity together as a community when we regulate our grief as discrete, isolated processes that each of us go through privately,” said Halberstadt.

Community members submitted names of individuals whose lives were lost during the pandemic, as well as moments and experiences that were missed, which were read aloud in remembrance.

Tamayo said that while we have lost so many and so much during the pandemic, we have also found new ways to create and support each other.

“In the midst of so much tangible loss, it can be easy to take less tangible and ambiguous losses for granted… We lost vital opportunities to be together in person and to participate in so many of our annual routine and lifetime sessions…

“For that, we want to give meaningful space to grieve losses that are a little bit more ambivalent or intangible in nature. I do want to highlight the persistence and innovation that has come out of people,” said Tamayo.

A physical installation/remembrance table will be in the lobby of 172 Tremont Street from now until the end of the semester to allow Emerson community members to contribute in person small items or written notes about their thoughts, feelings, losses, and gains during the pandemic. 

The remembrance table is divided has three tiers: the first tier represents the departure of loved ones or people we can no longer physically see and touch, and whose absence we might be grieving. The second tier is for those losses we cannot see with our five senses, and the last tier serves for questions or notes members may have.

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