Dear alumni/ae and friends,
As we turn into a new year once again, it’s tempting to create a list of “must dos” for ourselves and then begin to tackle that list with all the energy and commitment that we can. We are painfully aware that our society is in deep trouble. And we need, each of us, to dig deep within our faith to live in ways that refuse to accept what is as what must always be. However, before we go too far down this much needed path of living our faith, I suggest that we put a pause on it for a bit and remember and give thanks for those who left us this past year. This is not a call to leave the cares and troubles of the world behind and focus on our mourning and grief. No, it is a call to take time, as we begin this new year, to give thanks to the lives and witnesses of those who have helped shape us and, in many cases, helped birth us.
For the Divinity School, we name our colleagues—current and retired—Dale Andrews, Bill Barnes, David Buttrick and Board of Visitors member Bernard Werthan; the parents and spouses of Divinity School faculty members Juan Floyd Thomas, Melissa Snarr, Mark Forrester, Ellen Armour, Bruce Rogers-Vaughn and Stacey Floyd-Thomas and Board of Visitors member Hank Abbott. Many of you have family and friends to add to this list.
The folks whose names we call have joined the ancestors and although we sometimes take comfort in knowing that whatever suffering they were undergoing has now ceased, it still hurts and there is a hollow place in our walking around days. There are conversations that we can no longer have, and we hold as tight as we can to our memories—the sound of their voice, the important markers of family traditions, the frustrations and the joys of being in perfectly imperfect families and relationships, and wondering what this new future will mean for us. The work of grieving is hard, and it often leads us into unchartered waters.
One thing that I encourage us all to hold on to as we remember and mourn our dead is that they also left us with such wisdom that it would be a shame not to apply it to our living in this new year. This wisdom may not be what they actually accomplished in their lives and how they lived them—though there is plenty of this in the lives I’ve named.
Sometimes, that wisdom also comes with what they didn’t do or weren’t able to do; but left that work for us to do and to then pass on to others. So, as we mourn, we also celebrate lives lived as humanly as possible and the great promise that leaves with each of us as we begin this new year. At the top of our “must-do” list?: To live, deeply live, our lives, our faith, our dreams, our witness.
Emilie M. Townes
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair
Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society