How Shall We Rise?

March 10, 2021

This month marks the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 being declared a worldwide pandemic.  I don’t believe this is the type of anniversary where we will fetch balloons and champagne, but anniversaries, like birthdays, invite us to reflect on where we were a year ago and where we are now, along with who we were a year ago and who we are now.

Where were you this time of month one year ago?   I was at a poetry retreat with a group of six beautiful souls at a monastery run by Benedictine nuns.  None of us is Catholic, so when you see the word “Benedictine,” equate it with hospitality, for the sisters surely were that.  Covid, of course, was in every headline, but there had not yet been a documented case in our state.  We knew we might be pushing the envelope, but the meeting area was large, with a dispenser of Clorox wipes prominently in sight on the communal table.  The photos in this blog are of the retreat grounds in early spring last year.

When I reflect on that experience and how safe we all felt in our bubble of words, musings, song, and imagination, I am humbled by the gift of that time and struck by how much we all have given up this past year.  Since that weekend in March, I have not seen those poets except on Zoom.  We have not sung together, shared a meal, or embraced.  I have not sat in a worship service in the company of the broken and hopeful.  I have not dined with a single friend. I haven’t spent time with family, either, all of us determined to keep each other safe and not contribute to the spread of the virus.  And I have lost people I know and care about as have so many of you. 

That is my experience of the pandemic. But more was going on, a double-disaster.  In the United States, the past year smothered and soiled us with ugly and soul-searing political divide, with the clear evidence of ongoing racism and anti-Semitism, with the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots and the fact that those who have are frightened that what they have isn’t enough to share.  Fear proclaims itself in conspiracy theories and violence. Patriotism and Nationalism have become the golden idols for so many who claim to worship God.  Gas-lighting not only became a new word in my vocabulary but a new personal experience.  What have I lost, myself?  Trust in my fellow country-people.  Pride in a country that I believed to be gracious and generous, where people cared for their neighbors.  A sense of belonging.  The fears and the troubles of the past year will not simply go away as people get vaccinated.  I come into this anniversary in a large part, bereft.  The scars are deep, the trauma real.

What about you?  How and where are you one year later?  Can you sit among your ashes and count your losses?  Can you name them for what they are?  Can you honor them?  Yet once we do that, there is another necessary step that awaits us, a decision to be made.  Do we stay in the ashes, waiting for things to “go back to normal,” as if normal was all good?  As if normal truly defined who we are as individuals and as a country?  Or do we decide to rise up from the ashes as something and someone better?  We are face to face with a challenge and an opportunity:  what kind of people do we truly want to be and what kind of world do we want to pass on to those who will come after us?

The one hope that has sustained me through this year is that I will somehow be different, be more grounded, more whole, more caring because of my experiences; that I won’t be satisfied with going back to, but will insist on going toward.  In this liminal time between seasons when many faith traditions invite us to take an honest look at our souls, can we search for courage, compassion, and clarity and resolve to carry those attributes forward?  For any of this turning toward to be meaningful, to be real, to be strengthened, it must be rooted, like the ancient magnolia, in the ground of Divine Love, by whatever name we call our God.

A year ago, I was scared.  I still carry some of that fear today, but more than that, I embrace Love.  It is the one transforming power that will prevent us from going back to normal.  It can be the new breath that blows over us and through us, igniting those ashes back into a fire that both heals and creates. 

Blessings to you who have stumbled across this blog. My prayers are for your healing and wholeness, and for your memories and losses, as we journey toward the next year.  ~ Rosemary

Marking one year of Covid

No one serenades neighbors from a balcony
Gone are photos of shared scenes
outside windows from a locked-down world
When hopefulness faced reality
the clever, humorous videos of life
in quarantine faded from social media
At a half-million dead flags went half-mast
Did anyone notice?

How long, O Lord, how long, we cried.
Now, we know.

Yet here we are–the survivors.
How, then, shall we rise? Stumbling
out of ashes,
who shall we be?

Let us call on the prophets
to arise and announce
that Beauty will lead
and Love will witness.
Let poets pen Compassion
and painters color Wisdom
singers chant Hope
while sculptors chisel
Courage. Let potters go
to their wheels to spin Truth
and quilters pick up their needles
to stitch Healing, let actors
strut across old stages
to proclaim with fresh voices
that the proverbial phoenix
has risen–and she will not go
back to normal
she will not return to ashes
she will not be battered
by hate
she will not be chained
by division
but will blaze her way upward
leaving a brilliant trail of flame
for those brave enough
to follow.

© Rosemary McMahan