In times like these it’s good to turn to Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.” Please bear with me …
This week a close friend was forced to plea her case for an invasive cancer treatment after her insurance company suddenly and unexpectedly downgraded her necessary, if perhaps life altering, procedure to an “elective” treatment. She wasn’t alone, for others in similar situations also made similar comments. She didn’t take this too well, and who can blame her. In her angst she expressed her frustration by calling out those complaining of the overall shutdown of life as we’ve known it.
Here is her quote: “My patience for people posting how sad they are, that they are home bored, there will be no prom for their kid, you have not been drafted, called to war, or other first world problems, is completely exhausted! I’m so sorry you have been asked to sit home on your ass and watch Netflix.” Understandable.
Due to the pandemic our lives are in total flux. As this plays out many of us are wondering about our impending “new normal.” What our lives were last week will likely never be the same despite all those who are expressing “once this is behind us” … “when life goes back to normal” … and so forth. Yes, I aim to be positive and yearn to see the restaurants full, the street corners buzzing with activity and friends hugging in shared greetings. I want to see concerts and fans return to the high school courts and the big stadiums. I want to see my friend and others have the medical treatments they need to survive. These pandemic precautions are blatantly necessary, and for many life saving.
In my seven decades there have been many monumental changes and events, though nothing like this complete shutdown here and around the planet. I was born during World War II, yet I can’t recall a single time in my life when our country wasn’t involved in some military conflict or war. This was also all those years of the polio epidemic when I was a child and before the Salk vaccine, and I remember how my mother worried herself terribly over each and every hiccup and body pain. Much like we are now when someone sneezes, coughs or complains of a fever.
Meanwhile billions upon billions of dollars will be lost across the board both nationally and internationally. Lost wages will severely affect millions of workers who lived paycheck to paycheck. Small businesses and locally owned eateries will be challenged to survive. These are strange and difficult times for us all … with possible exception of the National Football League where multi-million dollar contracts have filled the sports pages the past few days. This is both sick and sad, and beyond rational comprehension.
Yet, if this worldwide pandemic brings all humanity to their senses of compassion and neighborliness, what a wonderful change that would be. If all humanity decided to care for our lonely planet rather than searching for ways of completely ravaging Mother Earth for profiteering and other forms of greed … from our neighbor’s farm fields to proposing mining the necessary wilderness areas; from discarding plastics and cigarette butts to deforesting and plowing up perennial grasslands; from neglecting the needs of the working poor to pushing corporate greed for Wall Street, insurance companies and major corporations; from devising more creative ways of suppressing the voting rights of minorities to providing risk free subsidies to the greedy “one percent”; to bullying the continued need of broadband communications technology in our mostly rural areas to relying on “entertainment” styled propaganda network views (not news) …. yes, there could be a lovely new normal, one more compassionate and understanding than we knew just a week ago … before the pandemic.
For an extrovert, and as one in the “at risk” age group, this pandemic is quite frightening. I would love to gather my sons around me and can’t. One is in a group home lock down, meaning that even if I could venture to visit with him, I can’t. The other is in a lock down in Norway. We have social media, real time “face to face” visits, which we’ve relied on for nearly a decade. Technology makes this is as handy as sitting in front of the computer.
So, how are you spending these nervous times? There are ways of not pushing the patience of my hospitalized friend fighting cancer, who fought and won her treatment. For me I have the outdoors, and a wood shop I can reach once I cross the rivulet of melt water between the two high points of my lawn. Above us geese are moving, and the redwing blackbirds are clutching cattails in the wetlands. Every day more birds are migrating into the area. Life goes on without us in the broader world!
Which brings me to Wendell Berry and the “The Peace of Wild Things”:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Being diligent and creative, and following the guidelines offered to lower the crush curve of Covid-19 by maintaining a six foot space might help us navigate through these challenging times. Meanwhile I’ll grab my Nikon and find a peaceful piece of prairie or wood to escape our necessary isolation and worry not of what our new normal might be for just a bit. For a moment I will rest in the grace of the world and feel free. That will be the gist of my personal survival technique!
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Many thanks for your thoughts on finding peace during the pandemic, John White. You’ve said, in a way that I can’t, many of the things that have been rumbling my mind the past few weeks. Like many, I am immune-compromised and thus vulnerable. I think the calm I seek is similar to what you’ve suggested for yourself. I’ll take my camera to the city prairie a few blocks from my house and watch the birds and other small creatures. They will still be here when the pandemic is not.