A wall of hearts

I hadn't expected the wall to be so unmistakably, visibly rosy-pink, even seen across the Thames from the other end of Westminster Bridge; nor had I realised it would stretch for 500 metres. That length alone makes the National Covid Memorial Wall's scale even more devastating, even before I remembered that it contains over 150,000 painted hearts - each one representing a heart that no longer beats, but a person who is still fiercely loved.

As I drew nearer the rosiness clarified itself into mostly vibrant red hearts of every size: some arranged in rows, others in clusters or patterns; many seemingly random, like a Dalmatian's dappling. Hearts within hearts, or turned into balloons, flowers, butterflies... Hearts which had been written in, or around, or embellished in loving tribute. Conjoined hearts for a married couple; adjoining hearts speaking of layers of loss of the same person: husband, father, brother, uncle... Normally, my Sacred Heart heart would leap at so many hearts and the love they carry, but on Friday it could only ache, and pray, as I walked the memorial's length - ten or more minutes, pausing and reading; then returned, still reading, still praying.

Where else can we see a hundred thousand griefs, shared yet personalised? I thought of war memorials, but there the names are uniform, engraved in identical fonts and formats, whereas here there is only uniqueness, and diversity. Here are names, some with dates, maybe with messages; mostly in Latin script, but also Chinese characters, Arabic and South Asian scripts. Here are hugely personal losses, of parents and grandparents, siblings, friends and colleagues, alongside wider, more unfathomable losses, tributes to the NHS, or laments for a nation. Here great-grandparents are commemorated alongside people who have cruelly died decades too young, immigrants beside natives, people abroad beside the person next door. Undying love and overwhelming loss are etched into this Victorian granite, along with anger, resilience and hope. Here, too, are many hearts which have not yet been written in - may never be written in: they're by no means empty, though, but filled with the love and care of the volunteers who have painted them. They add to the memorial's poignantly brave beauty, and breathtaking, heart-rending scale.

It was heart-rending, yes, but I'm glad I was able to visit. Whether Covid has deprived us of someone dear to us or not, in our shared losses and heartache this wall lives and speaks for all of us...