When this pandemic ends, we’ll have decisions to make
A favorite book I try never to be without is by the late Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue. It’s on my bedside table, on my Kindle and on the Kindle app on my phone.
One needn’t be Catholic (I’m not) or Irish (I am, but I try not to brag) to appreciate O’Donohue’s calm and reassuring presence on every page of his book “To Bless the Space Between Us.”
The book is divided into various sections, each one beginning with an essay that leads into a series of blessings. Under the section titled “Beginnings,” there are seven blessings, including “A Morning Offering,” “In Praise of Fire” and “For a New Home.” Eleven blessings are in the section titled “Desires,” including “For Freedom,” “For Eros” and “In Praise of Air.”
His poem, “For the Family and Friends of a Suicide,” gave me the words I couldn’t find on my own after my brother killed himself last July. An excerpt:
As your eyes strain to sift
This sudden wall of dark
And no one can say why
In such a forsaken, secret way
This death was sent for…
May one of the lovely hours
Of memory return
Like a field of ease
Among these graveled days.
May the Angel of Wisdom
Enter this ruin of absence
And guide your minds
To receive this bitter chalice
So that you do not damage yourselves
By attending only at the hungry altar
Of regret and anger and guilt.
Because this is so often my go-to book when I am searching for reasons why, I picked it up when Ohio started shutting down in efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus. I seldom agree with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, but overall, he has been the strong leader we need right now, acting early to shut campuses and schools and countless other places for public gatherings.
If you are physically vulnerable in any way, because of age or medical conditions, or you love someone who is, it is easy to fall prey to the soul-sucking churning of worry and anxiety. Even the toughest among us have our weaker moments as we watch the news get worse and worse. This will get better, but when?
I confess to moments of feeling hollowed out by the need to isolate from friends, colleagues and family members. I miss my husband, who must be in Washington, in the Senate. I miss grandchildren, their scent and their voices, and their wide-eyed wonder, but their parents have rightfully made clear that we must stay away for our own good.
Seldom has doing the right thing for our physical health felt so wrong for our well-being.
Again, I turn to the poet O’Donohue:
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
But take heart, he writes.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
When this pandemic comes to an end, we will not be who we were at its beginning. This is extraordinary.
Most of us will survive, and we will have some decisions to make. Will we seek to be more connected? Will we see anew how much we needed one another all along? Will we repair some of the damage we have inflicted on others and on ourselves?
Again, John O’Donohue:
Cradle yourself like a child
Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in the black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you
The glimmer of springtime.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.