The Altars we Build

We’re just over one month into the quarantine, and one of my daily practices is to go for a walk (as weather permits). My morning walk is brisk - the intention being to burn enough calories so that I might lose some weight in case the lockdown is lifted in time for beach weather. You know - the important things, right? My afternoon walks are a little more reflective, and I often take worship music with me as I traverse the roads by my home to a pedestrian bridge that takes me to a spot just over the 91 freeway. There’s a weird sense of serenity up there - being still while watching so much movement happen as people below rush from one place to another, even in the midst of a shelter-in-place order.

On this particular day, however, my trek up to the top of the bridge takes me to a new discovery: a small altar built with makeshift candles and decorated poster board with messages surrounding the words, “We miss you, Breeane.”

It’s not uncommon to see altars like this in my last hometown of Fresno. And as many as there are, it’s also not uncommon to not give another thought to them. To chalk it up to some thought that it was just someone that we didn’t know.

“Perhaps they were doing something that they shouldn’t have been doing.”
“Perhaps they shouldn’t have been walking on the train tracks.”

Today, though, I paused at the altar long enough to recognize that this woman - this life - was gone.

That this life meant a friend and daughter, among other things I’m sure. And that each of the candles, flowers, and notes left were lives that were now a little bit emptier because that person was not in it.

I don’t know what happened to cause Breeane to no longer be with us. I don’t know who exactly she leaves behind. But here’s what I do know - she was a person, created and bearing the image of God, and that presence is no longer with us.

All over the internet, I’m seeing people begin protesting the lockdown.

Saying that lives might have to be sacrificed in order to save our economy. Saying that the Coronavirus is a scam and a scare tactic, and that while people are dying, it’s one in a number of things that can kill.

The news all have a continual tally of how many people have fallen ill to this disease, and how many lives we have lost along the way. It’s weird to think that it wasn’t that long ago that we were shocked and horrified to hear of one person who had died of this disease in a Washington nursing home. And now here we are - somewhat calloused to the fact that the number has gone beyond one to the tens of thousands. These are lives.

So when we look at reopening the economy - when we talk about putting lives at risk so our businesses can survive, perhaps we should all take a moment to think about Breeane. To think about the value of one life, because the fact of the matter is, in the tens of thousands of people who are dying from this disease, is one who might matter to you.

You might pass by the altars on a daily basis.

Without giving it a second thought. But today, as we sit in our homes, perhaps we take a look at the tally on the TV, and rather than picturing the thousands, picture the one. And in that, we pray. Because when it’s not a pandemic, it’s going to be something else - gang violence, drug overdoses, starvation, AIDS, homelessness, domestic violence - that adds to the number of changed families in our world.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t even pretend to. What I DO know is this: If God’s entire plan is for us to know Him and to know each other - that if people are meant to bring shalom (wholeness) to this earth in the form of our relationship to God and our relationship to each other - then perhaps it’s time we spent the time looking at the person, rather than entire groups, to find the image of God that is present.

I still don’t know who Breeane is.

But I do know this - her life has affected mine. And perhaps it can affect yours as well.

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