First, a big chunk of thoughts from a voice more eloquent than my own:
“Mary Oliver for Corona”
(Thoughts after the poem “Wild Geese”)
You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer, your children more creative.
You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
By using this time to work even more,
write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
Or preach the gospel of ZOOM.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body unlearn
everything capitalism has taught you,
(That you are nothing if not productive,
That consumption equals happiness,
That the most important unit is the single self.
That you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine).
Tell me about your fictions, the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others,
and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world as we know it is crumbling.
Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
Stunned by what you see,
Uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
Because it gives you something to do.
Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
Do not let capitalism coopt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.
Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
Your stress boa-constricting your chest.
Know that your ancy (sic) kids, your terror, your shifting moods,
Your need for a drink have every right to be here,
And are no less sacred than a yoga class.
Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you, calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.
It is your birthright to be held
deeply, warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.
Normally, I would not begin with so much of a poem. Normally, I would feel as though my words for you were lacking something if they were prefaced by so many of someone else’s words. Normally, I would worry what you’d think about that. Normally, I’d feel guilty for taking even that one bit out of the middle. Normally, I’d say, “Is it too long?” Probably. “Is it too short because I took that one part out?” No.
But it is not “normal,” my friends. Nothing about this time is normal. You know that. You don’t need me to tell you that.
Except I think that some of you do. Some of you are saying things to me like, “I keep crying and I don’t know why,” “I feel as though I’m moving through molasses,” “I can’t get anything done,” “I can’t focus on what I’m doing,” “The kids are making me crazy,” “ My husband and I keep having these stressed-out spats,” and, most common when I ask how you are, “I haven’t been productive at all today, but…”
Two weeks ago, if you read Reflections, you read, “That Feeling We’re Feeling Is Grief.”
There are lots of places you can read this other pieces now, but I need to say it too, for you, for my platform, for this little corner of the reading universe I have: Don’t expect yourself to be productive. Don’t expect yourself to be a good little cog in the capitalist Machine.
Not the way you may used to have been, as least. Not the way it was when things were “normal,” even if “normal” itself was strange or scary or uncertain, which it so often is, even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic.
Pandemic is such a strange word. I find that my mind doesn’t really encompass it. There are so many people staying in their homes. And there are so many others going out into a dangerous world to help those who are sick or needing food or meds or other support. And even they, the ones who are in the world, the ones who are the “helpers” Mister Rogers told us to look for, even they/you cannot be as productive as you might expect.
You are strong. You are resilient. I want to tell you you’ll make it through, but I can’t. And that in itself feels strange. Who knows, any day of the week, any time of the year, who of us will make it through? But this is different. This is scarier.
Nevertheless, I think of my dear friends who have cancer right now. Who are having their last rounds of chemotherapy, at least for a while. Who are wondering what their immune systems are doing. And I think of other dear friends with significantly compromised—or even effectively off-line—immune systems.
And nevertheless, it can be okay. It can be okay to be sick. It can be okay for those we love to be sick. It can even be okay to die or for our loved ones to die, from COVID-19 or from something else. There is peace in the attentive, curious, and calm perspective Tara Brach writes about in her book, Radical Acceptance.
But okay doesn’t mean we’re not crying all the time. One of my Facebook friends, and a new comrade of ours over at The Way of the River Community there, told me today that she’s glad she’s been in therapy for a long time because she’s feeling all the feelings. They just keep washing over her. Worry for her 88-year-old mother who’s in an assisted living home far away. If her mother gets sick—frankly, even if she doesn’t!—our comrade will not be able to visit her.
“Okay” doesn’t mean that we won’t or don’t have feelings about what’s happening. I can only imagine what it’s like for those of you who are or have been sick. Or who have been unable to have an in-person shiva or wake or burial or other funerary rites for those you have already lost.
“Okay” doesn’t mean I don’t worry about my mother—she lives in Italy—every day. (I take some ridiculous comfort in the fact that she lives in Tuscany, far south of the worst of the outbreak, up in Lombardy. Better to take comfort in knowing she’s absolutely taking the best, most careful care she can.)
“Okay” just means that those of us who are alive, can get through this. We can take precautions. We can, as our comrade Jonathan says, “Stay the fuck home!” We can also do what we can to be tender with ourselves.
There is it again: Persistent gentleness.
Gentle, gentle, gentle. Whatever you do today, may it be gentle. Even if it’s the wild exertion of a mountain bike ride, let your motive be gentleness. Even if it’s after you’ve raised your voice to your spouse and your kids for the umpteenth time, let there be gentleness for you, forgiveness and compassion, in its wake. (That also makes it more likely you’ll be able to apologize, if necessary.)
Remember what Kusserow said above: Whoever you are, no matter how broken, / the world still has a place for you, / calls to you over and over / announcing your place as legit, as forgiven, / even if you fail and fail and fail again.
Gentle, gentle, gentle. Persistently. Relentlessly. And raggedly, imperfectly and failing so much more than feels okay.
We can be and are and will be gentle, too, even more imperfectly than normal, because none of us is firing on all cylinders.
Blessings of healing, resilience, and love for us all-