earthweal weekly challenge: SILVER LININGS


As the human tribe moves en masse indoors—hoping and praying to flatten the deadly coronavirus infection curve—the world outside hasn’t changed much at all. It’s a refreshing precedent.

Where I live in Central Florida, the virus outbreak storm is still gathering; most of the cases are in South Florida where more of everyday life has been locked down. Our county north of Orlando has only seen three cases, and there’s a smatter of rural counties further to our north which have seen none. Still, our state governor Ron DeSantis is ramping up the shutdown, closing bars and restaurants and beaches and locking down all assisted care facilities.

Yesterday driving about (I was helping repair a deck at my in-laws’ house, torn out for a new septic field ), there was much less traffic on the roads—not gone, but nothing like normal—and many businesses I passed had empty parking lots. We aren’t on lockdown yet, but everyone is has been urged to stay home, and many are. (It remains to be seen how Floridians, itchy fellas who usually bust out for golf and art festivals and motorcycling and days at the beach, will follow the rules after hibernation is extended.)

The days was warm and dry, upper 80s already, the oaks a brilliant first green, scents of jasmine and orange bloom in the air. (Summer is going to be very hot.) Into a Lowe’s home and hardware store to complete a return and credit, many workers were wearing blue plastic gloves, and one or two shoppers wore masks.

On a day like yesterday, you could feel the spring tide fully approached, smashing through with heat and scent and certain blowsy brilliance: And not far behind, this other, far less visible yet far greater wave of viral infection, erasing much of our  human trace as we hunker down inside and wait for things to pass. One could sense an exaltation of the elements, as this spring was jubilant in to find humanity so diminished, its wave that much taller for how much it has made us ebb.

There is plenty to fear—commerce and finance come to a halt, unemployment, recession or depression, bills and commitments there may not be any money for, a father in law with dementia who may be moving in with us for a lack of caregivers. The grind and wear of relationships as all of this continues to scour the everyday peace. For who knows how long and whatever else may come, unanticipated and wholly unprepared for. (Spring rains continue to fall heavily, followed by an ever-more fierce hurricane season.)

Et cetera ad nauseum ad infinitum: All that drains into a bitter reservoir. But there is also this: Days are beautiful right now, are they not? Minted from a halcyon coin which spells the end of one human treasury for the resumption of greater one owned by the world. As industries shut down, carbon emissions ebb. Oil prices are depressed and gas is cheap, but traffic is thinning to a trickle. Smog clears over Los Angeles, Beijing and  London. The waters of Venice are running clear again. All of those are unexpected graces of this change in the human weather—only temporary and fraught with great economic uncertainty, but here for now.

This week’s earthweal challenge is Silver Linings. Write about the unexpected blessings of human lockdown. What are some of the mercies of our human defeat, temporary though they may only be? Time is reshaping, coming back to Earth. There are longer moments with the beloved beings and things, greater appreciation for the light and night, fuller apprehension of moments while they linger. Much of it may be imbued with deep sadness or fear or angst, but it is a deeply impressionable time and we ought to report it well and look carefully.

In the opening stanza of his Tenth Duino Elegy, Rilke reminds us that all spiritual growth has roots in suffering, and therefore pain is the great ground of transformation:

Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string. Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom. How dear you will be to me then, you nights
of anguish. Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and, surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair. How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end. Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year–, not only a season
in time–, but are place and settlement, foundation and soil and home.

(Stephen Mitchell translation)

Let’s see if we can write a gratitude list of silver linings, and call that too our world.

— Brendan

8 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: SILVER LININGS

  1. I am impressed by how China cracked down and got their curve not only softened but completely flattened, having the ability to use draconian measures. Canada is more polite, asking people to comply. But on the weekend officials were frustrated to the point of tears at people filling parks and beaches in the cities. Our health care system can crash, it is already overloaded and people remain selfish. Officials say we’ll go to lockdown if necessary. But the week of allowing it to be optional will spread the virus, for certain. Italy went from 1000 cases one week to 40,000 the next. We are well over a thousand here. It’s on Vancouver Island, but they wont tell us which communities, which I mind, because if we knew it was in our community, we would take even more care. I am basically staying indoors as I dare not catch it. I am grateful to have this community to connect with, and to have writing as an outlet. Brendan, your father-in-law moving in will be a huge change and challenge. You might need to claim your study for yourself, so you have a retreat. But how kind of you and your wife, to be there for him. I have an elderly aunt in a nursing home, whose family is not allowed to visit. They look at each other sadly through the window glass, and it is ripping my cousin’s heart out to not be inside with her. I LOVE your list of silver linings….spring IS beautiful, we are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. In so many places this will hit hard those who live on the streets with no resources. I look back at what I felt such angst over last year and think: we didnt know how well off we were back then. I am sorry your president is a doughnut. In Canada, we feel well taken care of by our government. There is an 82 billion dollar budget set aside to help the poor and small businesses and unemployed. Mortgages and loan payments are deferred for six months at some financial institutions. People are rallying. But in Tuff City, our little hospital has TEN beds and ONE respirator. The mayor has asked tourists not to come till this is over. Tourists who are here are being asked to leave. Resorts are closing their doors. I hope we humans make the connection between how we live and the flourishing of nature, so the skies and waters can stay clear once the virus has passed. Governments have shown how they can mobilize when there is a threat to health. May they do the same for the climate crisis, also a threat to health. I LOVE the theme of gratitude this week, Brendan. Awesome!


    • China was particularly authoritarian from the get-go–not polite. But people GOT IT, and complied. We could have done that, despite the differences in or form of gov’ts. In the USA, the gov’t made it all seem like it didn’t apply to us. They missed a huge opportunity to believe science, and to help their citizens and immigrants. Instead, they were figuring out how to profit. Well, a few senators sold off stock, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Meanwhile, I hope beyond hope that people believe helping each other and taking distance will have a positive effect. Cynicism and/or silliness won’t help. But there have been silver linings, so I am going to try for a poem. My state of mind has to unfrazzle, though, before I write. I am angry that it took a pandemic for people to want to help each other, so I’m working on forgiveness. Of myself, too. I just knocked on a neighbor’s door who wasn’t speaking to me–nor I her– and we had a “what do you need” conversation. And I’m scared that when scarcity and infection grow, panic will override human to human silver linings. So I’d better make a record of them before they go away. Maybe writing to them will magically keep them with us.
      My favorite line form the Rilke poem: “How we squander our hours of pain.”


      • Thanks guys — The two great bugaboos of the time are opposite responses but equally dangerous — either getting swept up in an spiral of panic, or flattening into complacent denial. And its a time infections with both. We can only give necessary vent for those feelings as part of the personal cross we must carry and then give something more useful for the tribe — singing from balconies, for example, or be like the cellist of Srebenica who went out every day and bowed Bach in the bomb-craters and over the blood. And maybe there’s a lattice, a weave, of those silver linings we can practice and celebrate together. What else are we gonna do? That I suppose is our earth wale, our silver binding. While the unrest and fighting and denial rises its tide. (Now the big flatulence is a conservative horn honking to send workers back on the job next week wearing masks taken from those eeevil health care professionals telling eveyone to stay inside.) I’ve been re-reading Rilke’s Duino Elegies, reminding myself what a soaring silvery succulence we still have to share …


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