ROCHESTER, N.Y. – There are no wakes to mourn loved ones together, no funerals to join hands and celebrate the lives lost.
Jim Corbett doesn't personally know any victims of the coronavirus in Monroe County, New York, but he's honoring them one by one until they can have a proper burial.
Corbett is assembling crosses and staking them in his front yard. Each cross represents a person from the county who died from the virus. There were 49 crosses on Sunday morning.
"I was just thinking about the amount of lives lost," said Corbett, an Air Force veteran. "It’s a cumulative total of more than 3,000 years of lives and memories that have passed. It's all being put on hold."
Corbett aptly began the project on Good Friday, the day Christians mourn the death of Jesus on the cross, but show gratitude for his love and sacrifice. Corbett sang with his church group over Zoom and went into his garage to make 40 crosses.
Corbett, a general contractor, used lath left over from renovations at his 1906 farmhouse. A larger cross is made of two-by-four lumber from the home. The supplies date back to before any of the victims were born and Corbett has repurposed the materials to preserve their memories.
"I was watching stories of people making masks and joining together to do something positive for the community," Corbett, 38, said. "This is my own thing and a way to pay tribute."
The idea for the crosses was spurred by a recent visit to his wife's 93-year-old grandfather. The man who survived the Great Depression and World War II had lost his best friend of 75 years but could not attend any of the services.
"It puts a huge hindrance on little things that we take for granted," Corbett said. "It’s something that has crippled lives so much and so quickly."
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"Deployment at home"
It's the not first time Corbett has used his construction skills to edify his community. While serving two deployments in Kuwait, he crafted an American flag and the message "One team, one fight" out of bricks and debris to dress up his base in the desert.
"In a way, this feels like a deployment at home," Corbett said. "You’re sacrificing your things and normalcies but you still have the same comfort of family and friends at home.
"In the military when they're playing taps, even if you don't know anyone who passed away, you associate it with lives that are lost."
Corbett was cast in a local production of Broadway's Man of La Mancha last month. The performances wrapped up just before the county declared a state of emergency.
"The Impossible Dream," the lead song in the musical adapted from the novel Don Quixote, is about fighting against inconceivable odds.
"It’s very powerful. It's a message about hope and kindness," Corbett said. "Don Quixote hopes to add some measure of grace to the world."
Corbett is living out those values.
He'll have dinner with his family on Easter Sunday. Then, if the the county Department of Health announces a new death due to the virus, he'll build a cross for a stranger.
It's a reminder that every life matters and no life is forgotten.
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