What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20 http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/
The Winter of Pandemic Discontent
On Wednesday, more than 3000 people died of COVID in the United States. That is more people than who died on 9/11, more people than who died in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, more people than who died at Pearl Harbor. And on Thursday, Dr. Robert Redfield of the CDC warned that the daily COVID death count will most likely remain at this level — 3000 or more people per day — for the next 60 to 90 days.
By February, somewhere between 450,000 to 535,000 of our fellow citizens — our neighbors, friends, and family members — will have died from the virus.
As a comparison, about 650,000 Americans died in the four years of the Civil War.
Yes, vaccines are coming. But we will have to get through this winter first.
My heart is breaking, full of sorrow and rage.
We have all suffered inconvenience, loss, and anxiety from these months of the pandemic and from the ineptitude in the response of our government. But whatever we have suffered as individuals pales to what we have lost as a nation — the gifts, contributions, compassion, service, and talents of those who have died and those who will die. A half a million human beings.
It seemed morally and spiritually inappropriate to not mark this moment, especially with you all, the friends and readers whose companionship matters to me.
Yet, even through my work is words, I do not really know what to say. I’m sad and angry and worried and afraid. I’m full of rage that none of this had to be this terrible. I’m furious at conspiracy theorists and COVID deniers and anti-maskers.
Late Thursday night, I struggled to sleep. Instead, I read some poetry. And I just wanted to share a few of them with you. May you, in these words, find a place for your own sorrow and rage.
You are not alone. Although we are isolated, we are connected in this great loss. Somehow, we will make it through this icy landscape. Together in our collective grief.
Where Is God?
by Mark Nepo
It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.
It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.
The Uses of Sorrow
by Mary Oliver
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
On the Death of the Beloved
by John O’Donohue
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
This Mind of Dying
by Christian Wiman
God let me give you now this mind of dying
fevering me back
into consciousness of all I lack
and of that consciousness becoming proud:
There are keener griefs than God.
They come quietly, and in plain daylight,
leaving us with nothing, and the means to feel it.
My God my grief forgive my grief tamed in language
to a fear that I can bear.
Make of my anguish
more than I can make. Lord, hear my prayer.