Hart Island

2020 Smith, Lynn Rilean

https://gothamist.com/news/mass-burials-hart-island-increase-fivefold-covid-19-death-toll-skyrockets

Hart Island
Bronx, New York

Hart Island Mass Graves 2020
Photo credits to John Minchillo AP Shutterstock

One photo. A million questions. Goosebumps flooding my skin. Tear buckets weighing heavy and they are hurting. My feelings as I learn more are that I need to always show and tell my loved ones how much they mean to me. By the grace of God I sit and write this today.


This entry is informative and truly touched my heart. I hope by sharing this it gives you some insight into a potter’s field. What it means and why it exists. I’ll share facts and personal feelings. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me as I try to take you inside some history of Hart Island and the effects of Covid-19 and Hart Island today.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potter%27s_field


In the 1920’s Fredrick R. Barnard said “A photo is worth a thousand words.” I wonder if he saw photos from Hart Island?
What I saw today left me speechless. It also gave my inquisitive mind work to do.
It was just a quick glance as for the photo looked like what I remember a salvage yard or a waste site looking like.
I bypassed the article but I couldn’t stop seeing the image. It wasn’t long and I began my hunt to find the article again.
I did discover why that photo was haunting me.
What I read this morning turned what was already a strongly surreal morning into a rather strong awakening.
On my journey to learn more I found multiple articles. Many authors, facts, tweets and comments exist.
It didn’t take long to read the thousand words that photo was speaking to me. It displayed a large square shaped hole in the dirt being filled with what appears to be pine wood caskets.
Something newly discovered by myself in my researching is that of a “Potters field.”
I thought the photo I had seen had to be from a piece of history I had never learned in school attached to an article about an old war.
I was close in my thoughts but the reality hit me like a freight train.
This photo and the article I discovered are not old. In fact they are new and now. With or without the Corona Virus. It happens every day. If a transient leaves this world and the body goes unclaimed they typically will be found laid to rest amongst a Potters field.
I don’t think we see it because routinely we have family and funerals.
Whether we are homeless or not. We simply don’t pay attention to truth and surrounding realities unless we are in it personally or someone hands it to us to see.

We skip over those ugly realities on purpose because it doesn’t pertain to our daily lives.
We carry on and live each day as a new day the best we can, hoping we did enough.
This article I read displayed photos which could make the strongest go weak in the knees and weep. I hope they haunt me forever because I think, in a sense, it is very humbling.
Keep your loved ones close folks.

Why did this come to me and sit so heavy on my heart today? Of all days? Easter 2020.
Mass graves. Numbered caskets.
I’ve always had an enquirers mind and have already spent several hours researching this Island and it’s purpose. This island has been used for multiple reasons, a burial ground amongst them, with usage of the island dating as far back as 1864. Prisoners from Rikers Island would perform work duty there burying the indigents and unclaimed bodies. That Island has an abundance of history that I will continue to educate myself about. But it’s the origin for the indigents that has my attention.
That’s why it is heavy. It is new to me and it is sorrowful.
As I have read and been writing this I can see more than ever why it is so important to fact check. This photo was hard to research and learn the truth.
The photo brought about thoughts that all Covid19 death overflow was being sent to Hart Island to house until when and if they are claimed. ( without fact checking )
There is some truth and some false to that thought from the photograph, once you understand Hart Island, you can understand the photo.
The headline was misleading to grab one’s attention. As much of media headlines can be. I am glad I followed up to discover what was indeed fact over fiction and the vice versa.
The photo was heart wrenching to say the least. Leading me on a reading and writing scavenger hunt that I will likely not soon forget, if at all.
No one wakes up wondering where are the homeless buried? Honestly if you ask 10 people, maybe 1 person can answer you correctly. Did you know? I absolutely had no clue. My husband had no clue either. None of the family members I asked knew.
Depending on where you live, you may be closer than you think to a “Potter’s field.” (Biblical origin) Definition being, place for burial of unknown, unclaimed or indigent people. Google makes it simple to discover the locations closer to you than you might think.
Columbia, Mo., Grand Junction, Co., Florence, Ks.
Hart Island. 1 mile long in Northeastern Bronx, New York City. An island used specifically to date to lay the alone and unclaimed.
Melinda Hunt and The Hart Island project are working diligently to fight for the rights of those laid to rest amongst Hart Island and advocating for the long due respect they deserve.
The Covid19 has increased the burials and now it buries in a day what it use to only see in a week.
I’ll say it again, Hart Island. It is an Island used specifically to lay the alone and unclaimed to rest.” Let that sink in as you roam recklessly and carelessly in large groups among your cities, just because it hasn’t hit home to you. Burials in one day that is normally done in a week or more.
I can’t begin to describe the circling of emotions this article brought upon my household. I shared with my husband, and we discussed our thoughts among the two of us.
We both remain in a stage of dismantled realism. There is so much grief from the Covid19 battle the world is fighting; however a lot of us are fortunate and only grieving material experiences and changes vs loss of a loved one.
I believe as a country we are all likely in different stages of grief with the countless lives we continue to lose and I believe that to be human nature to be saddened, angry and or in denial by such an experience as this virus has brought upon all of us.
It has shown me even more of where my priorities are and need to be overhauled.
I am hopeful as this evolves it will keep us humbled in areas we took for granted and maybe under appreciated as we do leave our cages again.
Those on the front lines every second of every day and not one guarantee of anything as they start each life saving shift. To those feeling the risk is the same strolling around at Walmart when you shop, you may be right in the moment you are there but these nurses and doctors, clerks, fire and law men and women are on a non stop shift of potential exposure normally and even more now to this new bug. I hope you find time to appreciate them instead of comparing yourself to them and deeming yourself just as essential.

Many of us are without our families TODAY, (temporarily)as so many are. We were asked to not gather in groups in order to help slow the curve. Not hugging, not gathering for dinner or meeting for social events. Such a small cost. I can live with that now. I can clearly accept this as a much easier rule to follow after seeing that photo this morning and researching “ Hart Island.”
I feel somewhat selfish for feeling so blessed today, but are we not suppose to hold onto gratitude in dark places?
I’ve only been temporarily unemployed while others can’t hold the hand of a sick loved one?
We can facetime and video chat with our family, friends and loved ones.
Some people have no family.
If I feel bad for anything it is that I forgot to stop and look at everything I have to be grateful for. Instead I chose to focus on what I felt was being taken from me.

Our household is 2 adults and two cats.
As far as we know neither one of us have been in contact with the Covid19. We are breathing with no complications. We are not coughing or feeling ill. No out of the norm fever.
We have momentarily lost one income. That’s it. I repeat “That is it.” It was scary as our lifestyle was created around having both of them.
I have to admit that felt like such a BIG problem as this virus took it’s hold. There was as much or more talk of economics and job loss. It felt like the BIGGER problem because I hadn’t been personally affected in loss of life of a loved one due to the virus. I cried over finances while other people were crying and wanting to be with loved ones in ICU all over the country.
I panicked before feeling blessed.
I overthought everything financial and not one time did I look at what mattered most as my job was temporarily down. It hadn’t touched my friends or family. Everyone is still safe at home and not sick.
It’s been hard to awaken to the truth I have today.
We are still in our home, on our couch watching our television. We have food, heat and our essential needs are met. All my loved ones, friends and family alike are only a phone call away.
I can’t help think after seeing that picture today and doing my own research about Harts Island in the Bronx of New York, that photo was there to make me think.
To stab me in the chest with some gratitude.
To dig deeper into myself and the reality that surrounds us.
I see where I, myself, let selfishness and greed take up space in my bones. Where courage usually carries me.
That happens out of fear, fairly certain most of us are familiar with that term. Especially now as it runs rampant amongst the world in it’s entirety through the Covid19 pandemic. Fear spreading quicker than the virus itself seems to depending upon your sources.

As I sit here today in these thoughts and heavy feelings I am looking around at everything I do have. It is not hard to see it. To feel it. To appreciate it. Typical me though, I had to let it hit me and over think all of the unknown.
I know for a fact I have been lost in Covid19 fear this past month.
Today, right now in this moment though, I see and feel what matters most over everything else.
It’s the people. It is you, it is me and it is them. My income earning job is on hold but my job now is even more critical in order to go back and do what I love to do. In order to see my family together in the same rooms. My role now, my current job title is that of a protector. It is to keep you and myself safe and as healthy as possible during the stay at home order. It is unfortunate, yes. But after seeing that article that circulated social media, ( which by the way contained more fact than fiction ) it is not the money that matters most today. I’ve known that all along.
Fear will steal your truth quick. Just know that It is important to balance the healthy fear that keeps you from touching the stove and the unhealthy fear that says the more blisters the better.
My fear finally feels balanced again. I also know what it is I am afraid of losing the most.
It’s the people. My people. Your people.
I don’t want to have to live without mine and don’t want you to have to live without yours.
My family, my friends and my clients.
The stay at home order is purposeful.
They are protecting me as I am protecting them. I see it coming to an end and like birds we will fly again.
The most important part of my life is something no amount of money can buy.
How could I lose that truth so quickly?
I remember from personal experience, how scary it is to not know how or when you will eat your next meal, or where you will be to lay down at night or worrying if you will ever see your children again. I remember not knowing how I would pay my rent, car payment or utilities.
I get it. I understand how that fear of financial insecurity can show up as the most important thought. It’s frightening. You work so hard for so long and it disappears into the unknown. Naturally that is going to be frightening. It has consumed me too. I am ready to take a temporary job for who knows how long before I can go back to my absolute favorite job.

What truthfully scared me the most in the beginning ( when it was announced the first child’s life was lost to Covid19) before my work even stopped, hit me again today with that photograph. My worst fear is not my finances.
It is people dying. It’s losing a loved one.
It’s my honest to god truth and that anxiety is in my soul. I have had to battle that on a daily bases for the majority of my life with or without media coverage.

The loss of life.
The loss of mass lives.
Devastating doesn’t begin to describe the beginning of 2020 for all of us. Just like that, the world stopped turning as a nation. We are facing what will be one day discussed in our classrooms throughout the world.
I hope our future generations get to read that we as a Country are one to be proud of. That we worked together and did what was right and not because our freedom stolen but because it was the safest and the most right thing to do.
That we worked together to contain the Corona Virus and our casualty number didn’t grow near as bad as predicted because we were smart & unselfish. That’s what they have asked of us. Together we worked to slow the curve.
We are all story tellers now, and not one of us will be able to say this hasn’t touched our life in some way.
We ALL now share a common bond.
The story behind Hart Island woke me up today.
The story we are all writing by our lives, actions and behaviors during the Covid19 outbreak will whisper in our ear every day.
These stories will be left behind for generations and generations after that.
The story today presents some of us with unfamiliar opportunity.
For some idle hands are dangerous, we now dig deep to keep them busy.
For some we never rest, we are now resting.
For some we have never NOT earned an income, we now have no income and scurry to find some and figure it out.
For some we never lost a love one, we have now buried a family member, loved one or friend.
For some we never knew the vital role our nurses and doctors played in our communities, we now appreciate them more than ever.
For some we never took an ambulance ride or needed a paramedic, we now know without them we are left behind.
For some we under appreciated the role our police officer’s play in protecting the citizens of our cities, we now anxiously sit hoping and praying they are going to be there in time of an emergency.
For some we took our groceries for granted. Never truly seeing the hard work that goes into keeping the stores stocked or the on going long hauls made by truck drivers to deliver our essential needs.
For some, we saw a farmer as a man in a pair of coveralls holding a pitch fork with a cow and a couple of chickens. We now see without the farmer we have nothing essential.
Let’s face it, not many of us have what it takes to survive off of the land alone.
Teach a man to fish and he will never go hungry right? It says nothing about cleaning and cooking said fish. I would struggle and I would not like it. So I hope I never under-appreciate or take for granted those that serve us as we shop for groceries.

I always seem to find some deep meaning in just about everything.
Today it just happened to come from, “One photo“ and it reminded me that I need to work diligently to stay on top of my faith.
Without faith, I am fearful.
Without faith my spirit is indigent; wandering lost and alone.

I myself would like to lay down a bed of roses over Hart Island.

The Hart Island Project.

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