Stay Yet, My Friends, A Moment Stay

New-Year’s-Eve

New Year’s Wishes!
(body parts sonnet)

by Bruce Ballard

Your heart has wished folks well on New Year’s Eve.
You’ve sung “Should old acquaintance be forgot…”
(Your brain recalled the right words – did it not?),
And felt deep in your gut all you’ll achieve
In the year ahead.  You’ve mouthed the words
And eyed the prize you’re sure you’ll win within
The first few months.  Oh, toe the line, begin
A diet, lend a hand…it sounds absurd
Because you’ve voiced this every year.  But now
That you have Parkinson’s, you need to arm
Yourself much more, to hold at bay the harm
That Mr. P has slapped across your brow.
So, yes, you’ll face the facts, and double check
To work out, keep your chin up, save your neck.


I wonder what 2020 will mean to us 10 years from now?   Will it be just one year of discontinuity and hardship that signals the start of better things? Will we look back at it nostalgically with some small amount of pride of having survived it and been the better for it?  Or will 2020 become the moment America and the world looks back and realizes it was the start of when nothing was ever going to be the same?  

I am optimistic that the vaccines will improve our ability to return to more normal lives.  But I do not think it will convey the type of immunity that polio or measles or even the chicken pox vaccine conveys.  More likely it will be more analogous to the current flu vaccines, which improve our ability to fight off that year’s flu strain but do not totally protect us from it.  Likely this will become another requirement in our yearly flu shot routine.  The new COVID vaccines available today and the improved versions in years to come will be key tools for our public and personal health, but likely won’t be perfect.  There will inevitably be reports of people who received one of the vaccines, only to die from COVID.  In my mind, that does not mean the vaccines did not confer benefits to individuals and to society.  Nothing in health care is 100% effective. 

In the next 10 years, we will learn what the long term health consequences of having multiple infections of COVID.  We will learn whether there are positive or negative impacts of having COVID when you are younger that convey benefits or harm when you are older and a myriad other questions that only time can answer.  We will learn what the impact is on our health care system of the “long haulers”, individuals that have recovered from initial infections but continue to have debilitating symptoms long afterwards.  We will learn the consequences for those that do not take the vaccine and the impacts on their families.  We will learn as a society whether we can implement public health policies and practices that have benefited us for generations with the latest technology or will misinformation campaigns that sow seeds of fear prevail?  Will the fear of science and the onslaught of misinformation in the media steer misguided thinking towards an increase of unvaccinated?  I fear what is already a difficult proposition of getting our society inoculated at rates that benefit everyone, will be made all the more difficult by the media giving too much voice to anti-vaxers individual right to choose and thereby erode a greater public good.  I worry that bogus conspiracy theories that influence individual’s leaning towards not getting the vaccine could impact inoculation rates at levels that might erode the effectiveness of our public health.   

I think those of us that are confident in the science have an obligation to speak up for this incredible opportunity we have been given in 2021.  Vaccinations work because we mutually agree to enter into a compact as a society to take them together. We have already seen that countries with a greater mutual  cooperation around practical public health measures, like wearing a mask, achieve far superior outcomes than the United States in terms of infection rates and death.  Will we see the same with vaccination success in the coming years?   Will there be a divide between countries that achieve a high rapid percentage of  the population vaccinated and those that don’t in terms of life expectancy and COVID infection?  Will we see the United States, which used to be among the top in public health outcomes and life expectancy, continue to slip further and further behind the world’s best countries that spend far less and achieve far more? 

It all feels pretty bleak when there is such a large percentage of our community/country that still is rallying behind a much more disturbing myth of a second Trump presidency that is based on a completely imaginary alternative reality.   If we can’t agree as a society on something that is pretty black and white at this point, that Biden won a fair and accurate election, then how do we deal with more complicated issues around vaccines in which there is some shared risk and some unknowns, not so much in their safety, but in their long term efficacy?  The misguided fears of vaccines seems trivial in comparison to the current political divide, which begs the question is America capable of  mutual cooperation to achieve a greater good anymore?  

But, it’s New Years! As someone with high blood pressure and type II  diabetes I fit into the high risk category of the cross hairs of COVID.   I am looking forward to the day that I get my chance to be vaccinated and the second day sometime in 2021 or early 2022 when I will receive my booster and my body will be in a better position to fight it off.   And that hope is a bright spot waiting out there somewhere for me in the coming year.

Happy New Years!   Be well! 


A Song For New Year’s Eve

by William Cullen Bryant (1794 – 1878)

Stay yet, my friends, a moment stay –
.         . Stay till the good old year ,
So long companion of our way,
.          . Shakes hands, and leaves us here.
.            .      . Oh stay,  oh stay ,
One little hour , and then away .

The year , whose hopes were high and strong ,
.           . Has now no hopes to wake ;
Yet one hour more of jest and song
.            . For his familiar sake.
.            .   Oh stay , oh stay ,
One mirthful hour , and then away .

The kindly year, his liberal hands
.     . Have lavished all his store.
And shall we turn from where he stands,
.     . Because he gives no more?
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One grateful hour, and then away.

Days brightly came and calmly went,
.     . While yet he was our guest;
How cheerfully the week was spent!
.     . How sweet the seventh day’s rest!
.         . Oh stay, oh stay,
One golden hour, and then away.

Dear friends were with us, some who sleep
.    . Beneath the coffin-lid:
What pleasant memories we keep
.     . Of all they said and did!
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One tender hour, and then away.

Even while we sing, he smiles his last,
.     . And leaves our sphere behind.
The good old year is with the past;
.     . Oh be the new as kind!
.          . Oh stay, oh stay,
One parting strain, and then away

 

Seek Him In The Kingdom of Anxiety

Auden
W. H. Auden

If the muscle can feel repugnance, there is still a false move to be made;
If the mind can imagine tomorrow, there is still a defeat to remember.

For The Time Being by W. H. Auden


It’s New Year’s eve and all over the world will be celebrations welcoming 2019. Generally I let the poetry speak first and then follow with any commentary. I’ve mixed things up today as the poetry below by Auden is not easy stuff and I thought a little explanation was in order.

Auden wrote For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratario during the darkest days of World War II. It is a remarkable piece of writing, a retelling and interpretation of the Christmas story that is meant to be savored in some ways well after the marketing hype of Christmas has died down and the serious business of living in a new year has begun.  I will offer up a couple of pieces of the oratario in the next week along with a link to a digital version if you care to read the entire poem.  This is one of those poems that can’t be absorbed in one reading, there is too much to think about, too much dense material to wade through.

None of us truly understand another’s spiritual beliefs.  Auden’s poetry is filled with sign posts of his beliefs, his Anglican faith a center in his life. Auden was a gay man at a time when you could still go to prison in England for homosexuality and the Anglican church viewed homosexuality as deviant and wicked. Auden’s poetry is filled with discordance that may have its roots in the obstacles of aligning his strong sense of being a good citizen of the world and the isolation that being different can fester in Christianity. The greatest hypocrisy that can be at the core of Christianity, when it is used as a weapon to justify the actions of discrimination.

The sense I get in reading Auden is that he and I share something in common in our relationship with the Church; it is the foundation for our moral code and at the same time a source of discomfort in attempting to reconcile the entirety of Christianity’s contradictions with our own.  Auden was a bundle of contradictions. He was a moralist who drank heavily, punctual but in a continual state of dishelvement, a homosexual who never appeared to be fully at ease with his sexuality and in many ways a subversive, avant garde writer who choose to write in traditional forms.

What is remarkable about the Oratorio is how succinctly he gets to the contradictions that are the holidays for so many people.  It is a time of excitement, hope, love and joy for the fortunate who feel those uplifting sentiments in their lives.  For many others it is a time of loneliness, isolation and unhappiness. Auden impecably sews together both realities in his version of the Christmas story.  For The Time Being is not light reading. But if you choose to serve yourself up more intellectually challenging fair in digesting your holiday experience, I recommend finding a couple of hours sometime in the new year and sit down and read it.  In Auden’s work you my find a companion to help you on your way.  As he says below, “The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.”  In Auden’s version of the Christmas story some of us may more clearly see ourselves then the sanitized versions of Christmas that have surrounded us for the past weeks.


For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio

by W. H. Auden
Short Excerpt

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this…

The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

IV
Chorus

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.