Friday, April 17, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis XIV

[. . .] There’s a poem in this place—
a poem in America
a poet in every American
who rewrites this nation, who tells
a story worthy of being told
[. . . . ]
Excerpt from "In This Place (An American Lyric)"
Inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate


"In this Place (An American Lyric)" was written by America's first National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. Earlier this year, some 16 poets in Massachusetts joined Gorman in reciting and recording the protest-themed poem, which subsequently was to be featured at an April 2020 National Poetry Month event, "Evening of Inspired Leaders," a Mass Poetry fundraiser. (View the video on YouTube.) Originally written on the occasion of Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith's inaugural reading at the Library of Congress, the poem as choral recitation reminds us that America is, and always has been, a nation invested in storytelling, even in protest, and that our best stories often are those we tell as we live them. What we are living during this pandemic is both a collective and an individual experience, one that is being documented in large ways and small: in the obituaries of those who have died of Covid-19; in interactive and multimedia-rich projects about the truly heroic and urgent efforts of hospital and other health care workers to save the lives of people struck down by coronavirus; in photographs; and in newspaper and magazine articles, essays, and personal or online journals, blogs, and diaries being kept day to day. If you find yourself feeling low, restore yourself, as I did, by watching this videopoem.

Read the text of the poem at The Academy of American Poets Website.


Several questions I've been thinking a lot about: How are we talking about what is absent from our lives during the pandemic? Do we frame our words beginning with "Not . . . "? What can we or are we learning about ourselves while occupying that negative space? What are we noticing is present in our environments now that we are in isolation or quarantine? What strengthens us in the presence of so much that is absent? What are the paradoxes we're observing? Are we looking at the historical to make sense of the immediate? What kinds of sociocultural or other changes can we imagine as possible once the pandemic is over?


Our parish priest holds twice weekly gatherings on Zoom for anyone who wants to check-in, say hello, hear another's voice boom through the quiet of isolation or quarantine. This week a participant remarked on a fleeting but nonetheless present sense that faith wasn't holding, wasn't enough sometimes to carry her through the day. I wanted to give her a hug. In this pandemic, the only thing we can control is how we choose to spend the day we wake to, and even waking is a miracle. I think the crisis has been hard on those who are used to filling a day with noise and movement, who haven't practiced finding respite by being deeply silent. In the many early hours when others are sleeping and I'm not, I've focused my attention on the silence, been surprised by the chitter of birds in bushes outside my window, listened to how rain sounds the closer it gets to ground, how wind sweeps through a roof space, how steps on a sidewalk come to a stop. Faith holds when you unshackle yourself from time and doing, allow yourself to be curious, to believe such things go on, though you'd swear you were just dreaming.


The Washington Post's April 12 Sunday Opinion section included four reflections by pastors on what they might have said from their pulpits had Easter been celebrated in church. One of the writers was Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. Curry began by declaring that this year, "it doesn't look or feel like Easter" — not with our churches empty, not with anything "as it was supposed to be." (Indeed, worship by live-stream or recorded video takes a bit to get used to.) But maybe, Curry said, all those empty places "are signs of hope" and "love is winning again" because it's in love that we "sacrifice our gatherings" and "our cherished celebrations to save lives." "Maybe," he concluded, "these empty places are, in fact, a reminder — a reminder that though it doesn't look like it, it is Easter anyway." It's a typical Curry lesson — Love is the way — and so are faith and hope and trust.

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