“Like children bathing on the shore
Buried a wave beneath,
The second wave succeeds before
We have had time to breathe.”
Sonnets To A Republican Friend
by Matthew Arnold
God knows it, I am with you. If to prize
Those virtues, priz’d and practis’d by too few,
But priz’d, but lov’d but eminent in you,
Man’s fundamental life: if to despise
The barren optimistic sophistries
of comfortable moles, whom what they do
Teach the limits of the just and true
And for so doing, have no need of eyes
If sadness of the long heart-wasting show
Wherein earth’s great ones are disquieted:
If thoughts, not idle, while before me flow
The armies of the homeless and unfed: –
If these are yours, if these are what you are
Then I am you, and what you feel, I share.
I can almost feel the anxiety creeping up through the internet the past couple of days from people reading this blog. I am torn between posting fluff and feel good poetry as a distraction to the disruption in our lives or share something with a bit more gristle attached to the bone. If I am wrestling with it, the answer is probably do both.
If there are good things to come out of COVID-19, it will be what each of us focuses on in response to these challenges of change. Here’s the good I see; friends and family rallying around their elders, dropping off food, connecting with them by phone and Facetime and Skype. I hear friends reconnecting with their neighbors, sharing food and childcare and reassuring each other, supporting each other. I hear both fear and boastfulness of good health, but across that wide span, I am watching people talking to each other. Maybe what will come out of social distancing is a sense of community. A realization of what we value, a longing for our neighbors and neighborhoods when we re-emerge. We can’t isolate ourselves completely from this global world we find ourselves. This is true for the person sitting on their couch binge watching Netflix and for nations. At some point we are going to have come out of social isolation and take the risks we have always taken. The risk that there are communicable diseases in our world.
Wendell Berry is a gifted writer and poet, who speaks to our personal well being in ourselves as a direct reflection of the well being of our communities:
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
I listened to the church service I had planned to attend Sunday morning at Westminster Presbyterian in Minneapolis by live stream. It was a first. It wasn’t nearly as spiritual or relevant. It wasn’t even a good substitute for being there. I won’t pretend. It was a thing unto itself that if I am going to get anything out of it, I will have to accept it for what it is, a video on a screen. I still enjoyed viewing it. What did it inspire me to do? Take a few of my business cards and slip them under my neighbors doors, who I have said hi to in the hall in the past but never really met as they all have moved in relatively recently and I am never home. I wrote on the back – “Howdy Neighbor, I am your neighbor in 208. If you need anything, give me a call.”
As this thing progresses and turns into weeks, months and potentially years, the question we are going to ask ourselves at some point is when do we shift from fear to living bravely? We can’t shut out our parents, our neighbors forever, we can’t close our schools forever, we can’t all work from home and actually survive and move forward. At some point we have to accept the risk of living. Otherwise, like the protagonist in Wendell Berry’s poem below, we shall cease to experience, cease to be even in, our own lives. For as Matthew Arnold says: “Then I am you, and what you feel, I share.”
by Wendell Berry
2 thoughts on “Before We Have Had Time To Breath”
Thank you for your thoughts this morning, they give me something positive to think about as I go off to work in a stripped-bare grocery. Take care!
We have to find some humor in all this. Even the split pea soup at my local Lund’s was finding loving homes this weekend… Thanks for being part of the care giving team for your community.
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