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