Sheltering in place is hard, but far easier than contracting a virus that can easily turn lethal. I think all of are struggling with “big ideas” right now as we are forced to examine our own frailty in the wake of disease and our own place in this expanse of time we call life. Sometimes time is a gift and we rarely have enough of it. We fill our days with actions, events, people, conversations. But now we are asked to contemplate a different reality: practice social distancing and stay home. Initially, perhaps, excitement at the prospect of sleeping in, wearing sweats all day, working virtually if at all. But now…now days unfold at a snail’s pace and looking for meaningful ways to fill hours or maintain connections seem daunting.
I stumbled across a poem today that spoke to me. It’s imagery and message seems perfect for this stage of life, this now that is so unprecedented for most of us. We have time to think and naturally that thinking will lead to self-exploration, the biggest questions of all: Why am I here and what is my purpose? Most spend a lifetime contemplating those queries and are very, very lucky if they begin to find answers. We live in a era when “connection” has never been easier: plug in, turn on, surf, chat, buy, Skype, Zoom, watch. But so many still feel lonely and isolated. Of course, these feelings of aloneness are exacerbated by the corona virus and its impact on our lives…across the globe. In my lifetime, I’ve never experienced a world event of this proportion and thus have never felt more the connectedness of all of us who inhabit this earth. Connected but alone. Strange feelings to experience simultaneously.
And with headlines tallying the dead and bearing witness to the disease racing through the planet, it is only a matter of time until we know someone experiencing this battle – which some will ultimately lose. And in the fear of it, the disease and the dying, we question more our place in this realm.
I found this poem today and it seems to explore all of these emotions and thoughts in an extraordinary way. It was written by Rebecca Elson, an astronomer with a PhD from Cambridge; she studied the stars and also wrote poetry that celebrates the beauty of life or traverses the vastness of the galaxy. Thanks Ms. Elson for sharing your brilliance and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings for introducing me to so many artists, so many ideas.
ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH
by Rebecca Elson
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.