Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hope and Beauty in the Midst of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic

NOTE: The following was first published at The Wild Reed on March 14, 2020.

I went shopping today with my friend Deandre and saw for the first time what I'd only heard about or seen pictures of on social media: large areas of empty shelving in grocery stores and signage from store owners announcing to customers limitations of quantity of certain goods – namely toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

It was all very surreal.

And I couldn't help but think of Doris Lessing's novel, The Memoirs of a Survivor, about a woman's experience of a society crumbling as the result of an unspecified disaster, referred to as “The Crisis.”

In film director David Gladwell's 1981 adaptation of Lessing's novel (described by critic Albert Johnson as “a cinema journey full of discovery”), the main (and nameless) character/narrator is luminously portrayed by Julie Christie. (For my reflections on this film, click here.)

Of course, the event that is causing growing unease and panic around the world is not, as in Lessing's novel, "unspecified." No, for us in 2020 the event is the coronavirus pandemic, one which, globally, is unprecedented, and which here in the U.S. is about to get much worse because of the incompetence of the Trump administration and the lack of any real public health system.

Doris Lessing's The Memoirs of a Survivor is generally considered a dystopian novel, a story of end times.

Yet it can also be read as an allegorical tale of new beginnings. This is most resolutely symbolized in the salvific appearance of the mythic “Cosmic Egg” toward the end of both the novel and its film adaptation.

Writes Sharon R. Wilson about the significance of this symbol:

In Lessing’s revisioned creation myth, the Cosmic Egg requires human co-construction: the narrator mirrors her creator. Without the narrator’s journey through the wall and without her work to clean and order the chaos – work that matches that of the painter and gardener – presumably this egg could not open. As well as being a witness to the death and rebirth of the world, Lessing’s unnamed narrator is an active participant in its recreation.

I find this analysis of Lessing's novel, one that reflects the mystic path, to be both beautiful and hopeful.

And in recent days I've come across a number of writings by people who, in responding to the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, also offer beauty and hope.

Some of these writings are by people I know – friends and/or colleagues. Others are by well-known thinkers and authors. All reflect the beauty and wisdom of the heart, the seedbed of hope.


[N]othing feels stable. One month ago rumors rumbled, this week everything is shutting down. Within these last few days it has felt as if we were dropped into the plot of a sci-fi movie, where the viewer can see more broadly the entire scope of the problem and knows it is going to be bad. On screen characters are only beginning to sense the severity and react in fear. I hear the word, “surreal” quite a lot these days.

This morning I walked out of a bakery and into the familiar sound of honking just above my head. I looked up to see two geese preparing to land on a nearby pond. As I hopped into my car and headed down the highway, I was immediately gifted by a spectacular sunrise. It evolved from velvet purple, to azure blue to a popping bright yellow. As quickly as it arrived, it morphed to a calming lavender and ducked behind a bank of clouds.

When it seems as if nothing is the same, that everything is changing, as if there is no solid ground beneath you, take a deeper look. The birds are coming back to their summer homes, the lake ice is melting, the sun continues to rise and set in a predicable rhythm of grace. Regular life is still happening. Look beyond your (very normal) fear into the depths of your own heart. There you find stability. In that place, find peace. See grace.

And out of THAT heart space of stability, peace and grace . . . live.

Over this season you will find more posts than is normal for this space. I invite you to come, check in and breath. Take good care of yourself and those whom you love. And, be kind to each other.

– Andrea Wichhart-Tatley
March 13, 2020

If we imagine we live on some isolated little island, we are living in a fool's paradise. What happens over there affects me here.

My own well-being depends on whether I let you fall to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, telling myself that your life is none of my responsibility. If I let you be sick and without medical treatment, I myself will end up paying a price – as I will if I let you go without education, without food, without a job.

The butterfly beats its wings on the other side of the globe and the weather on my side of the planet feels the effects.

A global pandemic shows us that we are all connected to each other, all related, all kin, all in it together. And that we will not have lives worth living on this planet until we begin to recognize our interconnectedness.

William D. Lindsey
via Facebook
March 14, 2020

If we view ourselves as besieged victims who need to go into hiding, then we will cultivate fear and hoarding. If we view ourselves as a community working hard to protect the most vulnerable among us, then we will cultivate courage and helping. Mindset matters.

Len Niehoff
via Facebook
March 13, 2020

I was thinking this morning about how rapidly things can change. A week ago, I bought a new mattress at Macy’s. The sales person stood to shake my hand at the end of the transaction and I said, “Ah, no. We are supposed to be training ourselves not to shake hands now that the coronavirus has arrived in the U.S.” At that time, there had been five confirmed cases. We sort of laughed as we awkwardly attempted the elbow bump and he said, “Well, you are my first elbow bump of these new times.”

I left the furniture store and went to Trader Joe’s, where I leisurely shopped, overhearing the few other folks also shopping casually discussing things like what to purchase for dinner or what cheese to serve to guests gathering later that night. It was calm, the shelves were well stocked. I even bought a few hyacinth bulbs. And I probably touched my face 14 times without giving it another thought. It almost seems inconceivable that that was only a week ago in light of how much has changed in our world since then. That salesman might not even have a job this weekend as the stock market tanks, businesses voluntarily close for a few weeks in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” and people’s priorities shift from purchasing furniture to stockpiling toilet paper and disinfecting wipes.

By week’s end, my Facebook feed was full of photos of completely empty shelves at Trader Joe’s as the urge to hoard food and essentials became harder and harder to resist as the numbers of confirmed cases rose exponentially and the inevitability of self imposed isolation came into sharper and sharper focus.

As I was preparing the bedroom for the delivery of the new mattress later this afternoon, I was actually thinking how risky it feels to have strangers come into my “clean space” and what I would do if they arrive coughing and appearing unwell. I was pondering all this, and marveling at how long 24 hours can feel in a time of such uncertainty, when I flipped on the light in the dining room and discovered my hyacinth bulbs had bloomed. It sort of felt like the Universe was challenging my conclusion that everything that changed so quickly this week was in the negative column.

Alright Universe, you win. Sometimes rapidly changing things can surprise us with amazingly beautiful results. I hope you are surprised by beauty sometime this weekend as well.

– Amy Gabriel
via Facebook
March 14, 2020

As the world has slowed down in almost every experience of what the marvelous Sister Jenna calls “a global pause,” I’m having my most precious experience: a couple of days with my daughter India. . . . The coronavirus is reminding all of us to savor what we have, to go deep at a moment when we’re not as free to go wide. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal said that “Every problem in the world stems from [humanity’s] inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

We are being forced to be quieter than usual, and hopefully even in our sadness we will discover deeper wisdom. God knows there’s a lot of it to discover, about ourselves, about our country, and about our world.

What are we doing with our lives? Not how long will they be, but how meaningful will they be?

And who that we love can we love a little better, a little deeper?

These are the questions which emerge in the quiet, that remind me of this line from Rilke: “Let me not squander the hour of my pain.”

Marianne Williamson
via Facebook
March 13, 2020

Italians are beating the social isolation imposed by the country's coronavirus lockdown by taking to their windows and singing in unison, with videos of the phenomenon racking up thousands of views online.

Since Monday, a series of decrees from the Italian government have drastically limited citizens' movements, with vast swathes of the economy shut down and people instructed to leave the house only when strictly necessary.

All cultural events have also been suspended, prompting some celebrities to start organising online performances and museums to put virtual tours online.

Another attempt to boost morale has now come in the form of impromptu music at people's windows. One recording in the Tuscan city of Siena has been viewed over 600,000 times on Twitter.

. . . Another social media initiative has seen Italians put up signs outside their homes saying "andra tutto bene" or "everything will be OK". The slogan is accompanied by a picture of a rainbow – often drawn by children at home as school is cancelled.

Italy has been struck by the worst European outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with more than 17,000 cases and 1,266 deaths.

– AFP News Agency
March 13, 2020

Video of quarantined Italians singing to each other across deserted streets from their windows, balconies and doorways during the coronavirus lockdown is as beautiful as it is haunting.

David Allegranti, a writer for Il Foglio newspaper, shared footage of residents’ stirring rendition of a local folk song in the northern city of Siena on Twitter Thursday night.

“This video is touching,” Rome-based Allegranti told HuffPost via email on Friday. “The first time I saw it I started to cry.”

Allegranti said a friend sent him the footage, although it wasn’t clear who actually took the video that has now spread across social media. Twitter users were equally moved by what appeared to be an impromptu communal singsong.

. . . There were reportedly similar scenes of neighbors spontaneously singing together in Wuhan, China, in the initial days of the outbreak there.

– Lee Moran
Excerpted from “Quarantined Italians Sing Together
Across Empty Streets In Hauntingly Beautiful Video

The Huffington Post
March 13, 2020

Surviving this crisis will take a shift in mindset, and that’s tougher than we think – especially when we’re afraid.

Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused. This global pandemic is a real case of “getting sick together” or “staying well together.”

Our choices affect everyone around us. There is no such thing as “individual risk” or “individual wellness.”

This is the ultimate reminder that we are inextricably connected to each other. Turning away from collective action right now – as tempting as it is – will only generate more pain.

Owning and embracing our global interconnectedness (from a safe distance) and thinking about others as we make choices is, ironically, our only path to safety for ourselves and the people we love.

We can all get really shitty really fast when we’re afraid. I get it. I’m using deep breaths along with my personal mantra: ” Try to be scared without being scary.” Feel free to borrow both – they can help.

It’s also really normal for everyone to be on our nerves: The people who aren’t following the rules, the 10-second hand washers, etc. I get that too. TRUST ME.

But, like it or not, we just can’t give up on people. We’re all we have.

Stay awkward, brave, and kind. Love each other. Spread calm.

Brené Brown
via Facebook
March 13, 2020

For the vast majority of people nationwide and worldwide, this virus is not about you. This is one of those times in life, in history, when your actions are about something bigger. They are about someone else. They are about something greater, a greater good that you may not ever witness. A person you will save who you will never meet.

You may be healthy, and your kids may be healthy. Your parents may be healthy. Everyone around you seems fine. And all the things you planned and the 2020 spring you thought you were going to have has been completely undone. You have to work from home. Your conference is cancelled. Your semester is over. Your work is cancelled. It all seems fast, and out-of-proportion and disorienting. You look at each action and think – but it would be okay if I did that. It’s not so big. We worked so hard. They would be so disappointed.

Your losses are real. Your disappointments are real. Your hardships are real. I don’t mean to make light or to minimize the difficulty ahead for you, your family or community.

But this isn’t like other illnesses and we don’t get to act like it is. It’s more contagious, it’s more fatal – and most importantly, even if it can be managed. It can’t be managed at a massive scale – anywhere. We need this thing to move slowly enough for our collective national and worldwide medical systems to hold the very ill so that all of the very ill can get taken care of.

Because at this time of severe virus there are also all of the other things that require care. There is still cancer, there are still heart attacks, there are still car accidents, there are still complicated births. And we need our medical systems to be able to hold us. And we need to be responsible because our medical systems are made up of people and these amazing healthcare workers are a precious and limited resource. They will rise to this occasion. They will work to help you heal. They will work to save your mother or father or sister or baby. But in order for that to happen we have very important work to do. ALL OF US.

So what is our work? Yes, you need to wash your hands and stay home if you are sick. But the biggest work you can do is expand your heart and your mind to see yourself and see your family as part of a much bigger community that can have a massive – hugely massive – impact on the lives of other people.

I remember the feeling of helplessness after 9/11 and after Hurricane Sandy. I remember how much people wanted to help. I remember how much generosity of spirit there was about wanting to give, wanting to be helpful, wanting to save lives. And many of you have had experiences since then – whether it was a mass shooting, or the wildfires, or floods. There have been times you have looked on and wondered how you could help. And now we ALL have that chance.

You can help by canceling anything that requires a group gathering. You can help by not using the medical system unless it is urgent. You can help by staying home if you are sick. You can help by cooking or shopping or doing errands for a friend who needs to stay home. You can help by watching someone’s kid if they need to cover for someone else at work. You can help by ordering take-out from your local restaurants. Eat the food yourself or find someone who needs it. You can help by offering to help bring someone’s college student home or house out-of-town students if you have extra rooms. You can help by asking yourself, “What can I and my family do to help?” “What can we offer?” You can help by seeing yourself as part of something bigger than yourself.

When the Apollo 13 oxygen tank failed and the lunar module was in danger of not returning to earth, Gene Kranz, the lead flight director overheard people saying that this could be the worst disaster NASA had ever experienced – to which he is rumored to have responded, “With all due respect, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

Imagine if we could make our response to this crisis our finest hour. Imagine if a year or two from now we looked back on this and told the stories of how we came together as a team in our community, in our state, in our nation and across the world.

Your contribution to the finest hour may seem small, invisible, inconsequential – but every small act of ‘not doing’ what you were going to do, and ‘doing’ an act of kindness or support will add up exponentially. These acts can and will save lives. The Apollo 13 crew made it their finest hour by letting go of the word “I” and embracing the word “we.” And that’s the task required of us. It can only be our finest hour if we work together. You are all on the team. And we need all of you to shine in whatever way you can.

– Gretchen Schmelzer
This Can Be Our Finest Hour – But We Need All of You
March 10, 2020

Conversations will not be cancelled.
Relationships will not be cancelled.
Love will not be cancelled.
Songs will not be cancelled.
Self-care will not be cancelled.
Hope will not be cancelled.

May we lean into the good things that remain.

Jamie Tworkowski
via Facebook
March 13, 2020

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed.

And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

– Kitty O'Meara
via Facebook
March 16, 2020


It is shocking to think how much the world has changed in such a brief time. Each of us has had our lives and communities disrupted. Of course, I am here in this with you. I feel that I’m in no position to tell you how to feel or how to think, but there are a few things that come to mind I will share.

A few days ago I was encouraged by the Franciscans and by the leadership team here at the Center for Action and Contemplation to self-quarantine, so I’ve been in my little hermitage now for three or four days. I’ve had years of practice, literally, how to do what we are calling “social distancing.” I have a nice, large yard behind me where there are four huge, beautiful cottonwood trees, and so I walk my dog Opie every few hours.

Right now I’m trying to take in psychologically, spiritually, and personally, what is God trying to say? When I use that phrase, I’m not saying that God causes suffering to teach us good things. But God does use everything, and if God wanted us to experience global solidarity, I can’t think of a better way. We all have access to this suffering, and it bypasses race, gender, religion, and nation.

We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lifetimes. We have a chance to go deep, and to go broad. Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.

But for God to reach us, we have to allow suffering to wound us. Now is no time for an academic solidarity with the world. Real solidarity needs to be felt and suffered. That’s the real meaning of the word “suffer” – to allow someone else’s pain to influence us in a real way. We need to move beyond our own personal feelings and take in the whole. This, I must say, is one of the gifts of television: we can turn it on and see how people in countries other than our own are hurting. What is going to happen to those living in isolated places or for those who don’t have health care? Imagine the fragility of the most marginalized, of people in prisons, the homeless, or even the people performing necessary services, such as ambulance drivers, nurses, and doctors, risking their lives to keep society together? Our feelings of urgency and devastation are not exaggeration: they are responding to the real human situation. We’re not pushing the panic button; we are the panic button. And we have to allow these feelings, and invite God’s presence to hold and sustain us in a time of collective prayer and lament.

I hope this experience will force our attention outwards to the suffering of the most vulnerable. Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness. It takes two. There has to be the lover and the beloved. We must be stretched to an encounter with otherness, and only then do we know it’s love. This is what we call the subject-subject relationship. Love alone overcomes fear and is the true foundation that lasts (1 Corinthians 13:13).

– Richard Rohr, OFM
Love Alone Overcomes Fear
Center for Action and Contemplation
March 19, 2020

[T]his will change us. It must. All plagues change society and culture, reversing some trends while accelerating others, shifting consciousness far and wide, with consequences we won’t discover for years or decades. The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.

I know that I was a different man at the end of the plague of AIDS than I was at the beginning, just as so many gay men and many others were. You come face-to-face with mortality and the randomness of fate, and you are changed. You have a choice: to submit to fear and go under, or to live with the virus and do what you can. And the living with it, while fighting it, is what changes you over time; it requires more than a little nerve and more than a little steel. Plague living dispenses with the unnecessary, lays bare whom you can trust and whom you can’t, and also reveals what matters.

. . . Plagues destroy so much – but through the devastation, they can also rebuild and renew.

– Andrew Sullivan
How to Survive a Plague
New York Magazine
March 20, 2020

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

– Arundhati Roy
This Pandemic Is a Portal
April 4, 2020

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic
An Infectious Disease Specialist Weighs-in on Covid-19
A Prayer for the Present Moment
Move Us, Loving God
You, O Comforter, Are Ever Near
The End of the World as We Know It . . . . . . the Beginning As We Live It
As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible

Related Off-site Links:
The Shape of Love in a Time of Contagion – David R. Weiss (Full Frontal Theology, March 12, 2020).
Psychologist Offers Tips to Calm COVID-19 AnxietyKARE 11 News via Allina Health (March 11, 2020).
Managing Stress During Coronavirus Outbreak – Shai Plonski (via YouTube, March 13, 2020).
Lizzo Leads a Mass Meditation Amidst Growing Coronavirus Concerns – Sandra Song (Paper Magazine, March 13, 2020).
Coronavirus Offers a “Blank Page for a New Beginning” Says Li Edelkoort – Courtney Mares (De Zeen, March 9, 2020).
We Can Waste Another Crisis, or We Can Transform the Economy – Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos (Jacobin, March 13, 2020).
Late-stage Capitalism Primed Us for This Pandemic – Bob Hennelly (Salon, March 15, 2020).
Bernie Sanders Can Lead the Fight Against Coronavirus. Joe Biden Can’t – Branko Marcetic and Meagan Day (Jacobin, March 13, 2020).
People Are Fighting the Coronavirus With Mutual Aid Efforts to Help Each Other – Lucy Diavolo (Teen Vogue, March 16, 2020).
Facing COVID-19 With Community Instead of Fear – Lornet Turnbull (Yes! Magazine, March 10, 2020).
A Pandemic of Love: Deeply Adapting to Corona – Jem Bendell (, March 18, 2020).
Why Coronavirus Is Humanity’s Wake-Up Call – David Korten (Yes! Magazine, March 18, 2020).

BREAKING: God Tests Positive – David R. Weiss (Full Frontal Theology, March 16, 2020).

First and last image: Amy Gabriel.
Image 2: Julie Christie in Memoirs of a Survivor (1981).
Image 3: Deandre Dwyer.
Images 4-6: Michael J. Bayly.
Images 7-8: Screen caps from Memoirs of a Survivor.

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