‘Southern Voices’ is a reader-submitted platform for stories from the heart. Today’s submission comes from Ellen Cochran, a Nashville resident who shared the following message on her Facebook wall. If you have a story to tell, see our guidelines for submission here.

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A few days ago, on Good Friday, I accompanied my next-door neighbor Amy (who is both a minister AND a nurse) to film her Easter morning sunrise service.

Every year, her small church in tiny little Belfast, TN, celebrates the holiday in an old cemetery on top of a hill. The congregation has been meeting there every year (rain or shine) for more than a century to listen to a sermon and watch the sunrise along the horizon.

This year it won’t happen.

Americans and people all over the world have been banned from congregating with anyone outside their household. Parents are separated from their grown children and grandchildren. Siblings and aunts and uncles can only “see” each other over the internet. This pandemic has changed the complexion of the life we once knew.

So at 4:30 Friday morning, Amy and I drove the hour down south to the sleepy little town. We had to take separate cars (because of our health care backgrounds, we take social distancing very seriously). As I followed her down our street and onto the interstate, I was dumbfounded by the absurdity of it all. And I wanted to remember every feeling — as well as things I noted along the way.

Ellen is in the foreground and Amy is in the background.

I was amazed by the amount of traffic on the interstate at 5 in the morning. While certainly not bumper to bumper, there was a steady flow of headlights heading towards Nashville. Are there that many essential employees working now? And do they really have to leave their homes that early to beat the “traffic”? Gas stations touted fuel for $1.20/gallon (I can’t remember it’s being that low since 9/11, and my car is currently getting 3 weeks to the gallon!).

Amy and I arrived at the cemetery while it was still dark; and while I’ve always loved old cemeteries, I felt a bit of childlike trepidation knowingly entering a cemetery in the dark. I donned my ski coat and cap, scarf, and a surgical mask and grabbed my hand sanitizer. The temperature was in the upper 30s and the wind was fierce. I couldn’t wear gloves because I was recording her sermon on a smartphone — so I had to alternate moving one hand at a time into my pocket to warm them up. Having already read her sermon the night before, I worried that I might cry during the filming — but I was too distracted by the windchill.

Amy’s sermon focused on the fear the Marys felt walking to the tomb … alone … in the dark … as women. And the fear and grief of the unknown. Very fitting for these times. As she spoke, the sun lifted onto the horizon — bathing everything on the hill in a golden pink light. It made for a captivating video (shot by an inexperienced “videographer”). We finished the recording and played it back to check the audio (it was really windy). Then we simply stood together (10 feet apart) and watched the sun complete its separation from the horizon. I don’t think I’ve consciously watched a sunrise since college. It was almost painfully beautiful.

The view from the sunrise service

I snapped a few photos of the cemetery, the sunrise, and a gas station (ha!), and I am including Amy’s sermon — should you care to watch. I decided to post it because I want to remember this experience every year that it pops up on Facebook memories. I want to remember that I was scared. That I lost over 10 pounds in a month from stress. That I stopped riding my horse for over a month (thus far) because I didn’t want to be around people. That I was angry at the people who did not practice social distancing. That I tried to explain to those what the word “asymptomatic” really meant — and its implications. That I couldn’t be nearer than 15 feet from my mother and 30 feet from my severely immune-compromised father. That I had to deliver groceries to them and leave them on their porch and then back away so mom could step out to wipe them down because I didn’t trust anyone else to do it properly. That twice a day I check the numbers of total cases and deaths and number of recovered — worldwide as well as specific areas of America, Uganda, and parts of China and Russia. That I’ve been unemployed for 3 weeks and (for the first time in my life) on unemployment — though TN is so bogged down with unemployment, that I haven’t received a single check and don’t anticipate getting one for several more weeks. That I don’t know when I’ll be able to return to work in the dental field and if we will have proper PPE when we do return. That I feel depressed and anxious about not contributing financially to my family income. That the only thing that gets me out of bed most days is daily driveway walks “with” Amy. The White House has asked Americans to stop visiting the grocery stores and pharmacies for the next 2 weeks. I don’t know if that will lead to panic buying and empty shelves again. (We are actually okay on toilet paper! haha!)

I feel sorrow for seniors who are missing out on this important time, and for senior citizens in nursing homes who cannot have visitors. I worry for my Asian American friends who are starting to get heckled in stores. Will we see a surge in new racism and a return of horrors like internment camps? Or will we be so grateful when this is over that we will love and embrace ALL our neighbors? I have to hope the latter holds true. And every day I try to find something positive — like the bluebirds that are finally nesting in our birdhouse.

Baby steps.

As the sun started rising, Amy’s sermon concluded joyfully that we must focus on the positive and never lose hope. Because better things are on the horizon.

Enjoy Amy’s Easter sermon below:

 

Ellen Cochran is a native Nashvillian, wife and stepmother, who works in the dental field and comes from a long line of worriers. 

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