Photo: Garry Knight
I don’t start my day thinking, “I need some words to lift my spirits and help me see the circumstances of life differently.” After all, with just about everyone sequestered inside and living through their own experience of quarantine, opinions about how to live are plentiful. It is no surprise we are inundated with the predictable, run-of-the-mill media articles that target the lowest common denominators of survivalism and fear in all of us. What to binge watch. What to buy more of. How to stretch those canned goods. Top ten tips on how to survive life in quarantine.
But there are other messages that come from a different place, that feel more authentic and personal. They are less of an “it’s all about me” and more of a gift, offered up with the hope that a few words can make a difference in someone’s outlook. Over the last few weeks I have been humbled by the number of times a few words have helped me make a needed course correction on days that seemed to be nose diving downward. Someone in my network of friends cared enough to share, and the timing is often, well, kind of perfect.
For example, yesterday this came through out of the blue: A poem by David Whyte, written over 25 years ago, one I remember reading way back then. But now, it speaks to me in a completely different voice.
This is not
the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
A few days earlier, these words arrived, wisdom from a Hopi elder:
This moment humanity is going through can now be seen as a portal and as a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the portal is up to you. If they repent of the problem and consume the news 24 hours a day, with little energy, nervous all the time, with pessimism, they will fall into the hole. But if you take this opportunity to look at yourself, rethink life and death, take care of yourself and others, you will cross the portal.
And before that, from the Covid-19 response team in Belfast, Ireland:
When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, don’t say to yourself, “It looks like the end of the world.” What you’re seeing is love in action. What you’re seeing, in that negative space, is how much we do care for each other, for our grandparents, our parents, our brothers and sisters, for people we will never meet. People will lose jobs over this. Some will lose their businesses. And some will lose their lives. All the more reason to take a moment, when you’re out on your walk, or on your way to the store, or just watching the news, to look into the emptiness and marvel at all of that love. Let it fill you and sustain you. It isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness.
And prior to that, this simple poem by Pat Schneider, The Patience of Ordinary Things.
It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?
A few words, a small gesture. I am increasingly aware of how profoundly I am leaning on the wisdom of those around me. And it isn’t just through words. Many people I know are finding innovative ways to be of use during a time when the message is to stay home and do nothing. One friend is making crystal bowl recordings and sending them out to her friends. They are exquisitely calming. (Contact me if you would like me to share a few with you.) Another, a wizard with a sewing machine, is making face masks for everyone in her neighborhood. Another has an eye for humor, and her steady feed of jokes and memes is keeping a lot of us out of the blue zone. Closer to home, my son has become a stealth purveyor, leaving freshly baked loaves of bread and homemade ragu sauce at our door.
And through it all, day after day, my nephew Ryan Barlow–an ER doctor in New York City–goes in to face this pandemic head on. I thought of Ryan and his cohorts when I came across this passage recently:
In Life, the Universe and Everything author Douglas Adams introduces the idea of a ‘SEP field.’ As described by his character Ford Prefect: ‘An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot.’ It is a cloaking device, writes Adams, one that ‘relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.’
The idea of “Somebody Else’s Problem” has become as outdated as a dial up modem. As Ryan is reminded every day, there is no such thing in our world. Interconnectedness has never been so obvious, never been so essential to understand.
This global experience is also giving us a critical opportunity to understand more than that essential interconnectedness. These words from the Hopi elder can help:
Do not lose the spiritual dimension of this crisis, have the aspect of the eagle, which from above, sees the whole, sees more widely.
There is a social demand in this crisis, but there is also a spiritual demand. The two go hand in hand. Without the social dimension, we fall into fanaticism. But without the spiritual dimension, we fall into pessimism and lack of meaning. You were prepared to go through this crisis.
What world do you want to build for yourself? For now, this is what you can do: serenity in the storm. Calm down and pray. Everyday. Establish a routine to meet the sacred every day. Good things emanate, what you emanate now is the most important thing. And sing, dance, resist through art, joy, faith and love.