I Dream A World

This year, on Martin Luther King Jr Day, NPR ran an interview with its poet in residence, Kwame Alexander.  Alexander noted that the poem “I Dream A World,” by Langston Hughes inspired Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech 58 years ago. He invited listeners to write and submit poems beginning with the line “I Dream a World.” From the submissions, he will take phrases and lines to create a community crowd-sourced poem embodying the listeners’ dreams. I was intrigued but didn’t enter the challenge.

Early on in the pandemic, a friend suggested that COVID may be a wake-up call to humanity. Social distancing might provide an opportunity for self-examination, reflection on the state of our crisis-ridden world, and imagining a better future. For some time, I have been struggling with how to express my dream for the post-pandemic world. A world presently plagued with poverty, injustice, racism, hate, inequality, sickness, war, and climate crisis. Though I can imagine a different, fairer, healthier world, my imaginings seem as naïve and unlikely Dr. King’s dream. After all, look where dreaming got him! Though I cannot make rational arguments to justify my vision for the future of the earth, and I am powerless to persuade others that it is viable or even desirable, I still dream.

The more I allow myself to dream, the more my desire for such a world grows and affects my words and actions. I hope that I will not let myself off the dreaming hook, that others will have similar dreams, and that change will be both imagined and created.

I Dream A World
 I dream a world
 Where each receives enough:
 Enough food to satisfy the body's hunger,
 Enough clothes for warmth or cool,
 Enough shelter to call a home,
 Enough learning to foster growth,
 Enough imagination to dream,
 Enough freedom to walk proudly,
 Enough work to impart dignity,
 Enough safety to banish fear,
 Enough respect to nurture hope,
 Enough hope to conquer despair, 
 Enough suffering to make one wise,
 Enough beauty to feed the soul,
 Enough love to fill the heart.
 I dream a world
 Where earth soaks up the gentle rain,
 The air is clean and clear,
 Where sea breeds and nurtures life.
 Where heat and cold are balanced
 And gently alternate
 Like night and day. 
 Where skies are black or blue,
 And stars and moon are bright,
 And sun warms, and shade cools.
 Where life is green
 And death embraces earth.
 I dream a world
 Where balance reigns 
 And justice rules
 Along with truth and love.
 I dream a world
 Where tender hearts are open,
 And open hands are giving,
 Where eyes are softly gazing, 
 And ears attuned to listening.
 I dream a world,
 Where perfection and failure
 Are not the nagging enemies of good.
 Where each unique being, 
 Each thing is treasured,
 Held in reverence and awe.
 I dream the change of hearts,
 Abundance shared by all,
 And lack no longer known.

 I dream of many friends,
 To walk with me this path
 Of letting go too much
 And wanting what's sufficient,
 So, all may have enough.

- Moriah Freeman
  January 23, 2021

Cleansing or Transforming?

I’ve been mulling over the ideas behind this post for several weeks.  I don’t want to be considered crazy, and I do not write with the authority of a scientist, historian, or prophet.  But the notions I am about to share will not stop pestering me.  They come to me several times a day, every day. They insert themselves into my conversations, my reading, my walks in the woods, and my early morning reflections. They have driven me to the internet to see if anyone else is having similar ideas, and to conversations with friends to try them out on others.

I find the notion that Mother Earth is “taking vengeance” upon us humans through the Coronavirus, somehow appealing.  Since we have been too obtuse, lazy, arrogant, and greedy to read the signs of the Earth’s suffering, perhaps we need to be knocked over the head with a plague of biblical proportions. Enter COVID 19.  I am not the only one that finds the idea that the Earth is cleansing herself attractive.  However, nowhere on the internet could I find any science to back it up while several articles debunk it. So, I bow to the scientists.

Well, if not cleansing, how about transforming? I believe that everything is interconnected.  I wouldn’t exactly say that there are no accidents. Instead, I’d say that at any given moment, the conditions are right or wrong for something to happen.  Understanding the conditions that make an event possible is a powerful predictor and can be an effective deterrent. It wasn’t a deterrent in the case of this viral pandemic, but here’s hoping we may have learned a little something.

For instance, take the recipe, a prescription used by thousands of novice bakers during the pandemic to make delicious meals and desserts that may temporarily soothe our anxiety about the present and the future.  The baker who follows a tested bread recipe exactly will have a relatively good chance of creating conditions resulting in a delicious loaf of whole wheat bread.  If she is slipshod in following directions, the result is less likely to be satisfactory. 

Of course, there are always conditions over which she has no control.  She will not be baking the bread in the same oven that the recipe’s author used.  Nor will she be doing her baking in the same area of the world with the same atmospheric conditions.  But, as they say, “Thems the breaks!” You work with what you’ve got and learn from the results if adjustments are needed.

For a long time, we humans, highly-evolved thinking beings, have been creating the conditions leading us to this critical moment in our history – The Coronavirus Pandemic. Sometimes we have done so unwittingly, sometimes with complete knowledge of the inevitable effects of our drive for dominance and our greed. We have asserted our authority over the Earth, conquered the sea, ascended into the air.  We have used our planets’ resources, and one another, for our enrichment and to bolster our personal and national power.  The ingredients of our recipe have been combined and baked, and the COVID-19 loaf has finally emerged from the oven.

A monk at the Buddhist monastery of Plum Village in France offers a YouTube talk on the Coronavirus pandemic and calls the spread of COVID-19 across the globe a “Noble Moment” in our history.   He’s nuts, right?

He says that a “noble” moment is an opportunity to wake up, a teaching moment, a moment of suffering that leads to healing.  It is both painful and liberating.  It reveals our fragility and vulnerability, and it awakens us from our arrogance and self-absorption.

The global nature of the pandemic both proves and strengthens our interdependence. It is no respecter of persons, social class, race, nationality, or religion. However, its effects will be disproportionally severe for the poor, the underprivileged and the elderly – those who are the most vulnerable among us and whom we discount so easily in our drive for more power and wealth.

Some philosophical outliers like me have dared to posit that Mother Earth is cleansing herself through the pandemic – bringing us to our knees for our sins.   If the Coronavirus is not Mother Earth, punishing us for our crimes against her, or cleansing herself from the effects of those crimes, is it possible that the current necessary conditions for our survival against this virus (social distancing and staying at home) have at least given us an opportunity for a “global retreat.” 

Rather than rushing to get back to our routine, busy, transient lives, can we see this as an opportunity for a global stepping-back – stopping, standing still, looking, and listening deeply?  We who do not have to worry about losing our jobs or our businesses, about feeding our families, caring for the dying, or mourning our losses from COVID, are being offered an unprecedented opportunity for insight and clarity of vision.  Can we embrace this chance to reflect on ourselves, our desires and needs, our relationship to others, and the natural world? 

Can we ask ourselves the hard questions such as: What do we need for a life of safety, health, happiness, and well-being?   How much is enough food, clothing, shelter, education, freedom, self-fulfillment for me?  Is it possible for everyone to have enough?  Do I want everyone to have enough? Are those of us who have more than enough willing to make some sacrifices in the name of equality?  And if not for equality, for interdependence and collective well-being?  Can we admit that our hubris has brought us to this point and that the pandemic has the potential to be a global wake-up call?  Perhaps not a wake-up call sent from on high or from the earthy wisdom of our planet but inevitably shouted to us by the conditions that we have created.

Will I ever take travel for granted again?  Will I stop eating meat and move to a plant-based or at least a humane vegetarian diet?  Will I put the brakes on my at-whim consumption? Will I consider what is necessary for my happiness and well-being and shy away from excess? Will I work toward systemic as well as personal transformation?

I believe the Earth is badly in need of cleansing, but we, not she, are the potential cleansing agents.

Walking Meditation

About six weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to practice social distancing, a small group of residents at my retirement community began a weekly meditation session. The activity fell under the umbrella of “Health and Wellness,” and the meditation we practiced was purely “secular.” Each week the same core group of meditators gathered for half an hour of sitting (or lying down) in silence and stillness, focusing on our breathing and relaxing our bodies.

Proof that we found it helpful lay in the fact that we kept coming back. Some of us were new to meditation, and others had practiced for years, but meditation is an “equalizer.” We are all beginning again, each time we sit in silence.

In early March, the decree came down from on high (the management) that we must not gather indoors in groups of any size, we must stay six feet apart at all times and, eventually, wear face masks. The cottagers were told not to come to the main building where the apartment dwellers live. So, reluctantly our little band of meditators “disbanded.”

Before “social distancing” became the rule of thumb, I invited the group to try walking meditation. But while we could gather indoors, there was not much interest in it. Then, as hints of spring began to appear in the world around us, as we became tired of long days inside, I asked again if anyone would like to join me outside for a meditative walk. This time it appealed.

We gather on the open patio behind the main building. Fortunately, two paved paths lead off in opposite directions from this central point, bordering the large triangle of lawn on which we play croquet in the summer. The paved walkways are safer for those of us who are unsteady on our feet, and those who use canes or walkers.

We begin at 1:15 p.m. each fine day (but not during rainy weather.) The small masked gathering of five or six seniors stands quietly in a large circle with the appropriate distance between each. A singing bowl chimes three times, and we start off at a snail’s pace, down the left walkway and back to the patio, down the right walkway and back to the patio. We again gather in a circle, hear three more chimes, and end by bowing to each other and offering the greeting “Namaste,” “the light in me honors the light in you.”

Such a simple practice, but one that we find meaningful and helpful during this stressful and tumultuous time. Focusing on the breath as we walk gently on the earth awakens us to the present – to what we see, smell, and hear, to the warmth of the sun and the touch of the breeze on our faces. We thank each other at the end of the walk. At first, the “thank-you’s” were accompanied by smiling lips, but now, we see only smiling eyes above our face masks.

I don’t know what my fellow meditators experience during our daily ritual.  For me, it is a welcome break in the middle of each day.  My days are not exactly “busy” anymore, but they’re still full and purposeful. Our walking feels like an anchor that holds me secure amid all the uncertainty around me. I take deep breaths and allow my “self” to sink into my body. As my mind quiets and my body awakens, my senses are heightened. I see more clearly and hear more acutely. My brain stops whirling like a dervish, and my time-conditioned mind drops into the timelessness of “now.”

The enormous pine tree in front of me waves in the breeze with a “whishing” sound. The birds chirp, and so does a brave little chipmunk who is determined to warn us away from his territory. We notice first the crocuses, then the daffodils, and eventually tulips leaves and tiny red buds on trees that will soon flower in glory. I totter along, wondering at how unbalanced I feel when I walk slowly. I hear the gentle scuff of feet behind me. I disengage from planning. I stop analyzing and dissecting the circumstances of my life. Someone told me that other community members look down at us from their apartment windows. I wonder what makes them stay inside. We are an open invitation to a simple and mindful pause in the middle of the day.

No matter how slowly we walk, the meditation ends too soon for me. I ask myself, again, to carry this slow “nowness” into the rest of my day.

What sustaining rituals have you created during the Coronavirus pandemic? What new practices are your anchors at this time of worry, fear, political confusion, isolation, loss, unemployment, poverty, sickness, and death? If you have found some inner peace and reassurance during this time, can you carry it forward into the future? Can you join it to the various awakenings experienced by many others in this unprecedented situation? Might it be a “change-agent” for your life after COVID-19 is vanquished?

So might it be.

Adding Insult to Injury

Last night it snowed in Mid Coast, Maine.  This morning we awoke to about 6 inches of the heavy wet stuff, the kind that bends and breaks very soft birch tree trunks and lowers laden pine branches to the ground.  Yesterday it was an early spring day in southern Maine, and today it is again full-on winter.  Those of us who were finding consolation amid the Coronavirus pandemic by the promise of spring – crocuses and hyacinths blooming, daffodils almost ready to burst forth in their glory, forsythias on the brink of yellow buds – have had our hopes dashed in a matter of hours.

Daffodil in the snow

But that’s not our only loss.  Many Maine residents awoke this morning to find they had lost power during the night, a regular occurrence when the snow is heavy and wet, and most of the power lines are above ground.  When I checked at 7:00 a.m. today, over 200,000 customers of Central Maine Power (CMP) were experiencing outages.  The most extensive CMP customer base is in Cumberland County, where I live.  There are 166K CMP customers here, and as of 2:45 p.m., 7,819 remain without electricity.  In my town, 1,357 homes are still without power.  Ours is not one of them, thankfully.

Here ’til May!

Power outages are inconvenient and annoying at any time, but now they compound the already high anxiety we are suffering due to the COVID-19 epidemic.  Many households, like us, have stocked up on groceries and have refrigerated or frozen large quantities of food to tide them over during the “stay at home” phase of the disease curve.  When I told my spouse this morning about the extent of outages in our county, she exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus!” Not one of her usual utterances. She is enormously relieved that we have electricity.  She has stuffed our tiny freezer with carefully planned and rationed meals to last us for a month or more.  Imagine the distress and angst for those who awoke this morning to find their store of frozen food on the way to defrosting. 

Furnaces and heaters are not working. Hot water is lukewarm, on its way to cold.  And, of course, no one can take shelter with friends or family at this time.  We must stay away from one another, at home in our cold houses, losing hundreds of dollars worth of food.  Since many people have lost jobs and the federal stimulus package has not yet delivered its meager assistance to the average family, replacing that food when the power comes back on may be, at best, a stretch economically, and at worst impossible. 

Around us, a day ago, we saw lawns beginning to green and woodland paths dry enough for walking, one of the few safe activities at present. Now we see huge piles of dirty snow that we can expect to marr the landscape until, perhaps, May 1 or longer.  In 2020 Maine will have two mud seasons! Who would blame a Mid Coast Mainer for feeling his or her spirit crushed?  It’s just too much! 

But don’t feel too sorry for us.  We are incredibly resourceful.  We have to be to love living in Maine.  The snow will melt, the hardy daffodils will survive, and eventually, the power will come back on.  As of today, there are 586 cases of COVID-19 in Maine.  Seventeen people have died.  Our stats are low compared to other states because Maine reacted early to put measures in place to protect our population. Our public officials learned from other areas of the US further ahead on the disease curve.  Also, we are a mostly rural state with a low population density.    

Though it may seem that the April 9, 2020 snowstorm has added insult to injury (or perhaps injury to injury), it was an incredibly beautiful wonderland outside my window when the day dawned this morning.  Courage Mainers! Onward!

Let’s all improvise!

I pulled up in front of my local Post Office at 7:45 a.m.  I wanted to be at or near the front of the waiting line when it opened at 8:00 on this Saturday morning. I had debated in my mind about whether I should risk going out in public after the “Stay at Home” order issued by our governor, Janet Mills, on April 1st.  Could I consider this errand something urgent and essential, or was I putting myself at risk unnecessarily to mail this small package to my friend in Cambridge, MA?

My friend is very ill.  She was taken to the hospital by ambulance the week before COVID-19 exploded in Boston, so near to death that the emergency room staff placed her on life support.  When extubated a week later, it was a miracle she began breathing on her own and, within a few days, was discharged home.  During her hospitalization, someone stole the watch I had given her for her birthday. She was heartsick at its loss. Over the phone, I promised her I would give her another one just like it, and this morning I was venturing out to put the new watch in the mail.  Why, my significant other asked, was I risking going out in public now, instead of waiting until the pandemic winds down? I fear my friend is near death, and I want her to know how much I care for her.  The watch is a symbol of that care.

When I arrived at the PO, a postal worker was struggling to raise the US and MIA flags on the pole in front of the building.  She was wearing a mask and a latex glove on her right hand.  She complained that wearing a mask is difficult if you also wear glasses because they fog up.  She had a hard time seeing to hoist the flags.  I commiserated.  I was not wearing a mask, but I do wear glasses, so I am well aware of the phenomenon.

Another senior citizen stood in front of me at the door.  We were careful to say six feet apart, but we chatted pleasantly for a few seconds and then began exclaiming at the horror of the Coronavirus pandemic.  As we waited in the lobby for the inner doors to open, the flag hoister emerged from some inner sanctum with a roll of paper towel and a spray bottle of cleaner (sanitizer, I presume.)  She commented that the PO was not able to provide any disinfectants, so she was bringing her supplies from home to clean the door handles and counters as best she could. I thanked her warmly for her service and said I appreciated her efforts to keep us safe.

A few others entered the lobby.  Two men wore face masks.  The one six feet behind me had a neat diamond-shaped mask that covered his nose and chin with the upper and lower points of the diamond and fit snuggly to his cheeks.  I thought this looked particularly effective and asked him where he had found it.  “China,” he said. “We know people in China, and they sent us a supply. I am here to mail some to friends and family.  I’d better not broadcast that, though.  Someone might steal the package. Imagine, we are getting this stuff from China!”

At exactly 8:00 a.m., a male postal worker opened the inner door and invited us to approach the counter.  He wore a brightly colored and patterned face mask that was hand made.  I noticed there were bright yellow stripes on the floor to indicate where to stand on line keeping the prescribed distance from other customers.

While the woman at the front of the line mailed her parcel, I looked around at the sales counter.  A plastic barrier, held in place by blue painter’s tape, rose from the counter to the ceiling.  Small openings were cut in the plastic wall to allow for the passing of boxes and envelopes.  It certainly looked jerry-rigged to me, as if postal clerks had assembled it in a hurry with scraps of materials at hand.  I supposed it would be minimally effective in protecting the workers behind it. 

When it was my turn to approach the counter, the clerk apologized for the wait.  I assured him there was no problem. He asked the usual questions about my parcel: “Anything liquid, fragile, perishable…any lithium batteries?” I owned up to the watch and the possibility of a lithium battery in it, but that was not problematic, he assured me. Then he asked new questions: “Any hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes?” I said, “No,” but wondered what would have happened if I had said yes.  He was all business, trying to keep the line moving, so I dared not ask.  Are there penalties for attempting to mail our new “contraband” across state lines?  My parcel was not big enough to contain toilet paper, so he did not inquire about that.

The dreaded moment came when I was required to insert my credit card into the machine.  How I wished I had worn latex gloves! I had a small package of 10 at home that I had purchased a while ago for use while housecleaning.  They, too, are contraband now, along with masks and anything that sanitizes. 

Transaction complete, I thanked the clerk profusely and exited quickly.  I did not return my credit card to my wallet.  When I reached the car, I pulled a small bottle of hand sanitizer from my pocket and rubbed it on my hands before touching the door handle or the steering wheel.  When I arrived home, I carefully wiped off my wallet, my credit card, the car keys, and the doorknobs.

I told my spouse about the experience. I wondered at the Federal Government’s decree that Post Offices provide an essential service and must, therefore, stay open, while leaving the postal workers to fend for themselves and improvise as best they can to protect themselves and their customers. 

“It’s a crazy world out there!” we seniors say to each other as we pass on our campus streets, breathing fresh air through improvised masks, and feeling relatively safe.  Next time I venture into that crazy world (not any time soon, I hope), I will wear a face mask (we have those blue industrial ones used for woodworking) and two of my precious stash of latex gloves.

Masked and Gloved!

Joy Guilt

You know “survivor guilt?”  Dictonary.com defines it as “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress experienced by someone who has survived an incident in which others died.”  We often think of survivor’s guilt in relation to the Holocaust, or perhaps, 9/11.  It’s likely, I think, that some may experience survivor guilt when the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course. Those who have lost relatives, close friends, or colleagues may be left wondering why they were spared, especially if they were also exposed to the coronavirus.

What is “joy guilt?” My definition: “feeling guilty about being joyful when so many others are experiencing fear, deprivation, stress, loss, suffering or danger.”

I am feeling “joy guilt” at the moment.  Or should I say, I am wondering if I should be feeling guilty about experiencing so much joy during this pandemic?  I am joyful, while many others are stressed, sick, or even dying.  Should I not be somber, sad, afraid?  Should I not at least feel isolated and lonely as I keep my physical distance from those I love and the community in which I dwell?

And yet, I am experiencing irrepressible happiness, joy, and thankfulness. (Except in those few moments each day when I hear the news on Maine Public while driving or TV in the early evening.)  Why am I so joyful?  The pandemic has completely changed my daily life.  Instead of rushing from one appointment or commitment to another, always thinking about what is coming up next and whether I will be ready for it, I now have a nearly empty calendar. Huge blocks of time have opened up during my days, and I have the freedom to choose how to use them.   

Of course, I still have a “to-do” list.  But now, instead of watching it get longer and longer, I see it grow shorter. Now, I am open to spontaneous suggestions or requests, as the invitation from a friend to walk our dogs together on the trails that surround our retirement community.  (Keeping a six-foot distance from each other, of course.)

I realize that I am blessed beyond many. I have the resources to live in a wonderful independent living community where the very competent staff have put into place appropriate measures to protect us from coronavirus infection. I am not at risk of losing my business, my income, or my home.  I am tech-savvy enough to be able to order online and have groceries, pet food, and pretty much anything else I might need or want, delivered.  So, I am starting from a baseline of security that many others do not share.  I am also well and healthy, with no medical conditions that put me at risk of death from the COVID-19. I am very, very fortunate.

I also realize that I am not invulnerable.  My good fortune could come crashing down around my ears suddenly if a family member contracts and dies from COVID-19 or loses his or her job; or if I become sick with the virus and don’t bounce back to health quickly, or at all. My joy may evaporate at a moment’s notice. So, during the quiet early hours each day, I hold those suffering in the pandemic in my thoughts, trying to fathom their pain and fear, their insecurity and loss. I feel awe and gratefulness for the healthcare workers who are risking their lives to fight this disease.  I am thankful for the US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act. Though, I don’t understand whether it will provide the necessary relief that Americans or their economy will require.

Despite ubiquitous vulnerability, I feel joy. On top of my current baseline of relative financial security and health, I now have free time! Time to write, read, to pursue my mandala coloring and photographic hobbies, to meditate, to connect with others by phone or email, to enjoy the outdoors on sunny days, and work slowly in the garden preparing it for spring. Because I am not anticipating some future commitment, I can be more present in the moment, more aware of myself, others, and the world around me. I can go more slowly through the day; stare into space if I wish, chew and savor my meals, let the dog sniff one bush for as long as he chooses, without saying, “Let’s go, boy.”

I feel light-hearted and relaxed.  I am less frustrated by interruptions because my most prized possession – time – suddenly seems, at least at present, unlimited.  What I can’t finish today, I can happily leave for tomorrow, because tomorrow’s calendar is empty. I have empty days to fill with whatever my heart desires.   Joy, delight, happiness are the by-products of my new-found freedom.  Dare I say that I don’t want things to go back to “normal” – to the way they were before COVID-19 entered our world. 

Perhaps the experts can predict what the world will be like socially, psychologically, economically, medically, and environmentally after this disease has run its horrific course.  I can’t imagine that future.  I sense things will never be quite the same, but I can’t yet envision the changes to my small hometown world in southern Maine.

I hope that I will not be the same. I pray I will not let too many commitments creep back onto my calendar.  I hope the balance of my life will still tilt toward more free time – more time to indulge my dreams and to experience my connectedness to the earth and my fellow earthlings. May I still have time to contemplate the beauty around me, to listen deeply when someone speaks, to be still and silent, to respond to the promptings of my intuition and the desires and compassion of my heart.

Truth be told, I have squandered two other opportunities to create balance in my life:  my retirement four years ago and our move to Maine about a year later.  In each instance, I had the chance to start fresh, to create the simple, present, and compassionate life of my dreams.  But each time, my habit of overextending myself thwarted my hopes.  Each time, I re-packed my calendar with more appointments than I could comfortably manage and got involved in more activities and responsibilities than were good for my health or my spirit.

The third time’s a charm, as they say. 

What wake-up call(s) do you hear amid the suffering of the pandemic?  Do you want to be different on the other side of this disaster?  If so, how? Dare I imagine that if each of us asks these questions of ourselves, discovers their answers, and has the courage and tenacity to implement them, our world, or at least our small corner of it, might be quite different, post COVID-19.

Diary from a Social Distance

The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States and around the globe has changed, and is continuing to change, our lives, day by day and moment by moment. I’m making a renewed commitment to myself: to be alert to and aware of what is happening in and around me, during this unprecedented (in my lifetime) crisis.

I am calling this new series of reflections “Diary from a Social Distance.” I will share my insights in the hope that while we are being advised to distance ourselves physically from one another, we can actually draw closer together in spirit. May we look deeply and listen generously to ourselves and to each other. I invite you to react to my thoughts, to comment, and to share your experiences and insights. And I thank you for reading!

Respect amid a Pandemic

Those who try to find something positive amid turmoil, danger, or suffering are often considered Polyanna-ish.  Those who know me know I am not in the least so. I agree that the Coronavirus pandemic is a dangerous, frightening, confusing, and painful situation for people all over the world, and I too would frown on any suggestion that there is a silver lining in such an ominous cloud. 

However, there is an opportunity, and it is the same one offered to us after 9/11, 2001, and which we, for the most part, ignored.

We have the real opportunity (taking advantage of the genuine social isolation thrust upon us) to look deeply into ourselves, the chance to consider the trends in our societies, economies, politics/policies, and religions that have brought us to this moment in history.  There are sages, pundits, analysts, historians, scientists, and psychologists, you will say, who can do this work far better than I/you can – I the ordinary citizen of my town, state, and country, the average inhabitant of this world. True.  But the kind of radical change we need to prevent us from destroying ourselves and our planet must also happen within our hearts.

Our leaders and experts ask us to distance ourselves from others at this time, to withdraw from crowded places, to stay at home.  I respectfully suggest that we take this opportunity to savor a degree of solitude (or at least a slowing of our frantic pace of life) and use it to turn inward and ask ourselves the big questions that we so often avoid.

“Is she going to tell me what those questions are,” you wonder?  No, the questions that are important for you will arise within your own heart, mind, and life if you are quiet, still, and attentive. “There is a time and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Is now the time to search our souls?

Last night I was talking on the phone with a close friend who said at the end of our conversation, “We will get through this, I know.  We will be okay.” I agree that most people will come through this present danger and be all right. But will we survive it to be wiser, more compassionate, and more aware of our interconnectedness, and our interdependence? Will we be more grateful for one another, more respectful of our differences, and more aware of the needs of each other and the earth? The magnitude of this crisis, one that many of us in my generation in the United States have not encountered before, will change us.  But how will we be changed?  Will we be more fearful, more distant, more judgmental, more blaming?

Or can we sit quietly, getting in touch with our most authentic, most vulnerable, and tender selves?  And can we acknowledge that others who may be different from us may also embody truth? That others also feel vulnerable and hurt and long for a resurgence of tenderness, respect, and hope.

This morning I read the following in an article entitled, “How Not to Freak Out,”by Judy Lief in Lion’s Roar.

“In any individual life, there are easier and harder times. Circumstances are always changing. They change slowly and inexorably, and they change suddenly and unexpectedly.  Often, we see our own hand in the circumstances we experience, and sometimes we are blindsided by situations beyond our control…

There seem to be only two alternatives: the glass is half full or the glass is half empty. But a glass with water up to the midpoint is not making a statement either way.  It is neither half full nor half empty. Neither is it both half full and half empty.  Such a water glass is not elated by being half full, nor discouraged by being half empty.  It just is: a glass with water in it.

The world just is. It is not a this-versus-that, good-versus-bad world.  It is an interdependent world….”

…a world that is constantly changing and continuously offering us the opportunity to change along with it; to see beauty, to be kind, to offer respect, to adopt new attitudes, and learn new habits. We are sorely in need of some new perspectives and patterns of behavior. We have been brought up short by this pandemic.  Let us take some time to stop, look around us and within ourselves, and listen deeply to the voice of our humanity.

As a child in Sunday School, I sang the hymn “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”  For most of my life, I have thought its injunction overly simplistic.  Age and experience have taught me to value and embrace the simple. Forgive me for quoting only the verses with which I agree and that serve my purpose.

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!
Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar,
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear.
Let not narrow self your way debar.
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
Brighten the corner where you are.
Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.
-Ina D. Ogdon published 1913