Monday, March 15, 2021

Looking back One Year—Coronavirus Hullabaloo and Poetry

The villain  of the year,

Note—It was just getting started a year ago today, but poets were already weighing in.

OK.  I guess it’s time to address the elephant in the room—the Coronavirus pandemic.  Everyone else has.  In fact it is dominating the national consciousness unlike anything since the days immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I won’t duplicate the common sense precautions and recommendations that flood our TV, newspapers, and social media.  You can get that anywhere.  Nor will I inundate you with a history of the global spread of the disease or mind numbing statistics and prognostications. Those are grim enough and you are probably seeing infection spread maps in your dreams.  And I am not even going to rail against Trump, his ignorance, vanity, criminally inept management, and attempts to use the crisis as a cover for tax breaks to wealthy cronies, attacks on Social Security and Medicare, and xenophobic exploitation.  Surely he has not only shot himself in the foot but blown holes in the bottom of his sinking boat.  I won’t wring my hands or finger point over panic buying and hoarding.  There will be enough shaming.

From Friday the 13th through today, the Ides of March with all of its connotations of foretold doom, our lives have been turned upside down.  Much of the country is on lock down.  Social distancing is the euphemism of the day—a sad condition in a country that was already starved for human interaction in the age of being chained to our smart phones and devices.  Individuals and families are stressed by lost income—so many of us live from paycheck to paycheck—and by having to cope with unexpected home child care.  Even the most loving and well-adjusted of families might find enforced confinement with each other for days or weeks a harrowing experience.

My own life and community have been affected—although I have little to complain about compared to those who have actually been exposed to the virus and/or have fallen ill.  Two major projects that I have been working on for weeks have been suddenly postponed.  Poets in Resistance II had to be scrapped at the last moment when the McHenry County Department of Health declared an emergency and recommended the cancelations of all gatherings of 50 or more.  That program will be difficult to reschedule and we will have to start nearly from scratch lining up poets and making other arrangements.  The Promise and Practice of Our Faith, a special worship service featuring exclusively the voices of Black Unitarian Universalists was pushed back one week from today to March 23 and it will be conducted without the Congregation present, to be shared with Zoom meeting technologies. 

Indeed the Tree of Life UU Congregation in McHenry, Illinois is closing the building to all meetings and gatherings until further notice.  That includes the Social Justice Team meeting scheduled for this coming Wednesday and to long-planned Murfin family gatherings for which we had rented the church.

Meanwhile, because of my age—I turn 71 on St. Patrick’s Day and because I have an irregular heart beat and shortness of breath—my wife Kathy has decided that I should be held in close confinement.  We are in intense and on-going negotiations about when I might be permitted to venture from the house.  So far I may be permitted to walk a block and a half to cast my vote in the Illinois Primary on Tuesday as long as I pick a time of the day when turn-out is expected to be light.  But absolutely no results watching parties or victory celebrations.

Meanwhile to help feed the spiritual need we share these inspiring poems.

                                The Rev. Lynn Unger.

The Rev. Lynn Ungar lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife, teenaged daughter, two dogs and two cats. She serves as the Minister for Lifespan Learning for the Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online Unitarian Universalist congregation.  This poem when almost immediately viral and spread so quickly it was noted in an article in the Chicago Tribune.


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—a
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Lynn Ungar

 March 11, 2020

Brother Richard Hendrick

Brother Richard Hendrick is a Capuchin Franciscan priest-friar, living and working in Ireland  He is the Guardian of Ards Friary in Donegal which includes a large residential retreat center, teaches Christian meditation and mindfulness, and works with the Sanctuary Spirituality Centre in inner city Dublin.


Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Richard Hendrick

March 13, 2020


The Rev. Theresa Novak.

Other poets faced fear.  The Rev. Theresa Novak is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister who lives in San Rafael, California with her wife and partner of 43 years.  She has written poetry since her teen years and blogs at Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings.


When Fear Comes

When fear comes knocking

I never know

If I should answer

Or hide somewhere inside.

Maybe it won’t know

That I am here.

Maybe it will go away

If I leave it standing

At the door.


But fear is just a

Messenger, a warning.

Not a harbinger

Of what must be.

Listen, Fear,

I hear you.

I’ll be as careful as I can

And I thank you

For your time.

Go away now.

I need courage more

Just now.

Send some over, please.


—Rev. Theresa Novak

March 11, 2020


The Old Man reading at Tree of Life for the last time before the pandemic.

Finally, here is a doleful piece by the Old Man.

Love in the Time of a Plague


Have you wondered what it would be like—

            in an Egyptian mud hut when the Angels of Death

            did not passover your door?

            When the calls of bring out your dead

            rang from overburdened carts on London’s muddy lanes?

            When wrapping your children in the Small Pox blankets

            so kindly given to you by the invaders of your country?

            When Yellow Fever seemed to rise in the swamp air

            or Typhoid and Cholera did their mysterious work?

            When  Doughboy camps, refugee havens, and troopships

            brought death dwarfing the gore of the trenches?

            When ordinary summer colds sent children in the thousands

            into iron lungs on crowded wards?

            When the unwanted and despised were reaped by God’s wrath

            and rest stood aside until the innocent were touched?


Now we know, or imagine we do, as Cassandras cry alarm

            and we retreat into isolation.


That fear and isolation may be more lethal than an alien virus

            sapping our lonely souls even if our bodies are spared.


Now comes the time of love in the age of a plague—

            how do we reach out to caress a face we cannot touch?


—Patrick Murfin

March 15, 2020

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