In last week’s blog I shared some of my favorite poems that help quiet me during times of unrest, allowing me to take a contemplative moment to soothe my soul.
I included the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver because I think it urges us to embrace who we are and the choices we make along our way, to feel our shared humanity and be reminded of the beauty and order of nature and our place within it. The poem is timeless and its message universal. However, I’ve included below a beautiful contemporary interpretation of Wild Geese for these times of Coronavirus written by Adrie Suzanne Kusserow, an anthropologist/poet. It speaks directly to our experience now.
Mary Oliver for Corona Times (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.
Meanwhile the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms and trailer parks.
Meanwhile The News barks at you, harsh and addicting,
Until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.
Meanwhile a new paradigm is composing itself in our minds,
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
From the same tired hegemonies.
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 antsy 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.
~Adrie Suzanne Kusserow
I love the way the poet acknowledges our human tendency to take control through action and staying productive in the face of uncertainty. She then gently invites us to ponder what would it be like, how would we feel, if we actually took the time to stop and not follow our usual patterns? Are we willing to give ourselves permission to feel and fail, giving voice to our weariness and our longing for our spirits to be nurtured and soothed? Will we sit with ourselves long enough to know what we need to get through this in a healthy way…to thrive despite the burdens we carry?
Tal Ben-Shahar, a renowned teacher and writer in the fields of Positive Psychology and leadership, reminds us of this opportunity when he writes, “Things do not necessarily happen for the best but I can choose to make the best of things that happen.”
We certainly would never choose to experience the pain, loss of life, fear, financial strain, isolation and uncertainty that we find ourselves experiencing now as we stand witness to loved ones dying alone and babies born without family members there to welcome them into the world. Yet, here we are.
Some of what we’re facing is unfathomable to think about. Never before have we seen such mass loss of human life happening so fast and furious from an unknown and unpredictable illness. Our front line workers are putting their lives on the line daily to get ahead of the wave and save those who are suffering on the brink of death.
Our lives and the world we knew will never be the same as it was before COVID-19, just as it was never the same after many tragic times of our past. This is a hard and startling fact AND we do have the potential to shape our future to reflect some of the lessons we’re learning through this. Adversity teaches us and shapes us; we become stronger and more resilient when we see what we are capable of doing in the worst of times.
My hope is we will listen now and learn to be a little slower, a little kinder to ourselves and others, a little more open and accepting of differences, a little more humble, and a little more grateful for what we do have.