The way a crow Shook down on me The dust of snow From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart A change of mood And saved some part Of a day I had rued. ~Robert Frost “Dust of Snow”
All those with whom I speak these days wish things could be different~ nothing feels right, rights feel like nothing, everyone sadly angry and angrily sad.
Friends no longer speaking to friends, families divided, opinions expressed and dismissed.
This virus is doing more damage than it was ever designed to do. It simply wants to replicate itself, yet along with its RNA, we have allowed it to sow discord, distrust, discouragement into our cells as well.
There is no vaccine for the stubbornness of heart ailing us now; we resist protective measures, act as if all is normal when a quarter million are dead and more are dying.
This infection of the spirit will far outlast the virus by spreading through the generations, eroding relationships, splitting human bonds, and withering our love for one another.
The melon shades of leaves will soon rust and fall gently to layers of rest and forgetting, like sunken poems, unusual love, and grave silence after the crows.
The black walnut tree trembles down its mysterious spheres to sleep darkly, to pulse with memory of heartwood.
Old roses are paling with grace in this air of ruining tomorrows. Autumn again, and all the years twisting a garland of melancholy. ~Tim Buck, “Autumn” from VerseWrights Journal
The beauty around me is dying. It becomes harder to find vibrance and life in my surroundings in the volatility of deep autumn: a high wind warning is on the horizon in a few hours and we face a long winter as the uncontrolled pandemic continues unabated.
Those facts alone are enough to make me wander about the farm feeling melancholic. Even more than the loss of mere leaves and the fading of blooms is the reality of so many afflicted and infected people whose season for dying will come too soon.
Woe to us who are more concerned about our inconvenience and discomfort today than the months of ruined tomorrows for millions.
Lest it be forgotten in our bitterness – the promise of healing and renewal is also on the horizon.
May I listen for the pulse deep within the heartwood of each person with whom I have differences; my love for them must not fade nor wither but grow more graceful, more forgiving, more vibrant and beautiful by the day.
Last night we ended up on the couch trying to remember all of the friends who had died so far,
and this morning I wrote them down in alphabetical order on the flip side of a shopping list you had left on the kitchen table.
So many of them had been swept away as if by a hand from the sky, it was good to recall them, I was thinking under the cold lights of a supermarket as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel up and down the long strident aisles.
I was on the lookout for blueberries, English muffins, linguini, heavy cream, light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon, and whatever else was on the list, which I managed to keep grocery side up,
until I had passed through the electric doors, where I stopped to realize, as I turned the list over, that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea as well as the bananas and the bread.
It was pouring by then, spilling, as they say in Ireland, people splashing across the lot to their cars. And that is when I set out, walking slowly and precisely, a soaking-wet man bearing bags of groceries, walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.
I felt I owed this to Terry, who was such a strong painter, for almost forgetting him and to all the others who had formed a circle around him on the screen in my head.
I was walking more slowly now in the presence of the compassion the dead were extending to a comrade,
plus I was in no hurry to return to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you all about Terry and the bananas and the bread. ~Billy Collins “Downpour”
Since the count began, the list of those who have died expands every day in media headlines and increases by the hour on websites dedicated to COVID tracking – –
–only there are no names. We don’t list the names of those who have been lost.
Maybe if there were names of over one million people around the globe that the virus has hastened to take from us, somehow it would matter more. Maybe if we witnessed the suffering that accompanied each case, we would understand this is more than “just like the flu.”
I’ve seen the flu kill the young and healthy, so hearing that comparison doesn’t comfort me or cause me to wave this off as something that will pass as soon as the election results are tallied. Even some health care workers are remarkably nonchalant and dismissive of the virus. I simply don’t understand: after decades of pandemic planning in my work as a medical director/health officer, this is the situation we all dreaded could happen, but knew we needed to be ready for.
I don’t want to see anyone else added to a list that is far longer than it ever should have been and growing by the day. Yet the tallies rise because our very own behavior, modeled from the very top of government, is responsible.
Will anyone someday build a monument listing the names of those who died in this pandemic? No, because there is nothing noble about dying of a virus and the list would be far too long. There is nothing noble about failing to protect others in the name of protecting my own individual liberty and civil rights.
So I wear the mask and so should you. It just might keep me or you or someone we love from being just another number on the list.
The shadow’s the thing. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Be comforted; the world is very old, And generations pass, as they have passed, A troop of shadows moving with the sun; Thousands of times has the old tale been told; The world belongs to those who come the last, They will find hope and strength as we have done. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “A Shadow”
A shadow is hard to seize by the throat and dash to the ground. ~Victor Hugo from Les Miserables
We are dealing and dueling with shadows, our flawed imperfect darkness rather than one another. We write things on a screen that we would never say to another’s face. We assume motives, predict behavior, ponder reactions but all is smoke and mirrors.
Such is the cost of feeling fear and distrust.
As the sun moves and time passes, the shadows shift and play with the Light from a different angle, so shall we shift and pray.
Rather than holding the Light at a distance while trying to wrestle shadows to the ground, we’ll embrace it and make sense of it, yearning for the illuminating hugs we’ve been denied for so long.
The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost For none now live who remember it. ~J.R.R. Tolkien Galadriel’s prologue to The Fellowship of the Rings
There trudges one to a merry-making With a sturdy swing, On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament Is another bent, On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall Ere ill befall, On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death With quickening breath, On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war From the hill afar, On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none, Unhired moves on, On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall Upon him at all, On whom the rain comes down. ~Thomas Hardy “An Autumn Rain-scene”(1904)
The rain has returned, now six months into a changed world. The rain blows, raging against the windows and puddling in the low spots, sparing nothing and no one.
It drenches all and everyone – none of us immune from the cleansing: whether missing the joy of sweet fellowship, whether bearing urgent messages or administering badly needed medication, whether trudging through the day’s chores, whether unemployed and praying for work, whether bearing witness to ongoing divisive conflict and tragedy, or whether the rain falls chill upon those newly lying still and silent beneath the soil.
In our universal soaking, may we look at one another with a renewed compassion. Each one of us deserves a warm and comforting toweling off, being buffed and fluffed so we’re ready to face what comes next.
If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain. ~Emily Dickinson
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. …. in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. ~Philippians 2: 1-4
Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4: 1-3
By wearing a mask…
If I can stop one person from infection, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease another’s worry, Though masking goes against the grain, Or help a divided country be Restored to health again, I shall not live in vain.
O gather up the brokenness And bring it to me now The fragrance of those promises You never dared to vow
The splinters that you carry The cross you left behind Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind
And let the heavens hear it The penitential hymn Come healing of the spirit Come healing of the limb
Behold the gates of mercy In arbitrary space And none of us deserving The cruelty or the grace
O solitude of longing Where love has been confined Come healing of the body Come healing of the mind
O see the darkness yielding That tore the light apart Come healing of the reason Come healing of the heart
O troubled dust concealing An undivided love The heart beneath is teaching To the broken heart above
Let the heavens falter Let the earth proclaim Come healing of the altar Come healing of the name
O longing of the branches To lift the little bud O longing of the arteries To purify the blood
And let the heavens hear it The penitential hymn Come healing of the spirit Come healing of the limb ~Leonard Cohen “Come healing”
We are all in need of healing, none more so than those who have been affected by the pandemic, either dealing themselves with the illness and its long-lasting effects, or grieving the untimely loss of family and friends.
There is need for healing in relationships, either because of too much proximity or not nearly enough due to quarantine.
There is need for a sense of purpose without a schedule of regular employment or schooling to occupy our days.
There is need for healing for the wrongs we do, intentionally or unintentionally.
Our hardships are meager compared to the plagues of the past but they are nevertheless real and undeserved, so we pray for relief, we pray for grace and mercy, we pray for healing of mind, body and spirit.
Even a tiny blue forget-me-not blossom reminds us: we need to seek the fragrance of promises made and harvest the fruit of promises kept.
God does not make promises to please us, like a politician in an election year. He keeps promises because He knows we need to believe they will happen according to His plan— He forgets-us-not because we are the troubled dust upon which He has blown sweet and fragrant breath.
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er, Leads by the hand her little child to bed, Half willing, half reluctant to be led, And leave his broken playthings on the floor, Still gazing at them through the open door, Nor wholly reassured and comforted By promises of others in their stead, Which, though more splendid, may not please him more; So Nature deals with us, and takes away Our playthings one by one, and by the hand Leads us to rest so gently, that we go Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay, Being too full of sleep to understand How far the unknown transcends the what we know. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “Nature”
I remember being reluctant to go to bed as a child; I could miss something important that the adults waited to do until after I was asleep, or I wasn’t sure that I wanted to turn myself over to my dreams.
I had a period of time when I was in third grade (during the Cuban missile crisis) when I really was terrified to go to sleep, and ended up reading comic books during the night hours, trying to keep myself distracted from whatever fears I harbored. My mother, frantic for sleep herself during this worrisome time, consulted my pediatrician who prescribed orange juice with a tablespoon of brandy – for me, not for her. She was outraged at the thought, being a teetotaler, so bought no brandy for me (or for herself). I eventually got over my sleep issues, but not my worried heart.
The unknown is always more frightening than the known, and the older I got, the more I learned during 24 years of formal education and training, the more I realized I didn’t know. There would be no end to it. Even though I still spend several hours a week reading for required and non-required continuing medical education, I don’t crack the surface of everything that is news in my profession. There is a whole lot that I need to un-learn because it is now proven that it is no longer valid as it originally was over four decades of medical practice.
During the last three months of COVID-19, it is like drinking from several firehoses at once, as data on this previously unknown virus comes piecemeal from countless sources: the studies are rushed and sample sizes are small, conclusions are tentative, often barely peer-reviewed and sometimes disproven the next week by another study. What was considered “fact” a month ago may no longer be so.
So I know I must settle into the reality that there will always be plenty of unknowns, particularly as I reluctantly let go of life’s playthings one by one.
The unknown will always transcend the known on this side of the veil so I appreciate that I am gently led, in faith, to that long-awaited sleep that was so elusive before.
The crow’s voice filtered through the walls of the farmhouse makes sounds of a rusty car engine turning over. Clouds on a north wind that whistles softly and cold. Spruce trees planted in a line on the south side of the house weave and scrape at the air. I’ve walked to a far field to a fence line of rocks where I am surprised to see soft mud this raw day. No new tracks in the mud, only desiccated grass among the rocks, a bare grove of trees in the distance, a blue sky thin as an eggshell with a crack of dark geese running through it, their voices faint and almost troubled as they disappear in a wedge that has opened at last the cold heart of winter. ~Tom Hennen, “Early Spring in the Field” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems.
I shouldn’t be turning on the heat in the house on a late May morning but there is still an undeniable chill, even at this point in spring. The flowers outside are lush, but we’re still two or three weeks behind our usual bloom schedule.
We’re all impatient to be done with the coldness of a winter that has driven a wedge between people and politics, families and friends, well and ill.
We seek warmth and renewal and hugs and handshakes.
Instead we are asked for patience, to continue to practice the art of waiting for a safe reentry to spring and summer. No one wants to be tossed brutally back to the winter we just crawled away from.
May we emerge together, muddied but whole, ready to face whatever comes next.
What stood will stand, though all be fallen, The good return that time has stolen. Though creatures groan in misery, Their flesh prefigures liberty To end travail and bring to birth Their new perfection in new earth. At word of that enlivening Let the trees of the woods all sing And every field rejoice, let praise Rise up out of the ground like grass. What stood, whole in every piecemeal Thing that stood, will stand though all Fall–field and woods and all in them Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn. ~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987).
We live in a time where the groaning need anddividedness of humankind is especially to be felt and recognized…
Yet this terrific human need and burden of the times causes us to see how weak and powerless we are to change this. Then we must see that if we are to advocate change, we must start with ourselves. We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame for social injustice, oppression, and the downgrading of others, whether personal or on a broader plane. We must see that a revolution must take place against all that destroys life. This revolution must become a revolution different from any the world has ever seen. God must intervene and lead such a revolution with his Spirit and his justice and his truth. ~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8: 22-26
We are groaning in anticipation of what might come next – so many ill, so many lost. What can we make of this, how can we make sense of it?
We could groan together in the hard labor of birthing a newly unified people all facing the same viral enemy. Instead we groan angry and bitter, irritable with one another, wanting to find someone else, anything to blame for our misery.
God willingly pulls our groanings onto Himself and out of us. He understands even when we are too inarticulate to form the words we want Him to hear.
We must cling tenaciously to the mystery of God’s magnetism for our weakness and suffering and allow His healing us to begin.
By His Spirit we will be forever changed and our groanings will be no more.