It has been over a year now since COVID first invaded our countries and our bodies. Since then, we have longed for the touch of loved ones, fought off anxiety and despair, adjusted as much as possible to the stunning effects of prolonged isolation, and watched as the numbers of deaths mounted, week by week, state by state, country by country. It was, we agreed, the worst thing we’ve gone through in a hundred years.
To mark this dark anniversary, we have seen pictures of those we’ve lost, and heard about them as people, not just statistics. The media has brought many of them into our homes and hearts, respectfully and with feeling. But it is not often that we’ve heard real stories about the victims of this insidious virus, or their families; the kind of stories drawn from memory that make us laugh, weep, empathize, share sadness, become better people ourselves. Perhaps stories like that, which set a scene, have characters, dialogue, plot lines and, ultimately, universal meaning have yet to emerge. I hope they do, because we all have stories to tell and we all need to stories to hear.
That’s because storytelling is primal. It’s the way we come to understand the world around us. Story give us wholeness. It allows us to recover something vital and true in our lives and the lives of others. Stories, as writer Sue Monk Kidd knows, are “the life of the soul.”
Telling and hearing stories of how we got through this dreadful pandemic is how we say what happened, with empathy, so that future generations will know what it was like to live in isolation for a year or more, to feel afraid while trying to be brave, to cope and even to grow because of the shared experience.
Storytelling is an essential act of remembrance in which our words build monuments to a time when our lives called upon us to carry on and to endure, to know what really matters, to know what to cling to and what to let go.
All of us have a natural instinct toward narratives that reveal the greater truth of what happens on our individual and collective journeys. Words carefully crafted change our experience and help us arrive at greater truths. In our tales of this COVID time and an adjusted normal all of what we share happened, all of it was true, and all of it matters.
In making much of the mundane, we experience our epiphanies, our “Aha!” moments. We become “gardeners of the spirit who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth,” as May Sarton put it. We are brave in our contemplative experience and dare “to deal with our bag of fears,” as Eudora Welty said we must.
Here is some of my story about COVID, the third in a trilogy of poems that appear in the forthcoming anthology, “A 21st Century Plague: Poetry from a Pandemic.”
“In the beginning, while in survival mode, we masked, distanced, and washed our hands
Like mad Lady MacBeth, hoping the virus would bypass us, lucky ones, untouched, safe, exempt. Then, as the weeks wore on, we found ourselves frayed and frightened,
Anxious and depressed, while the beast grew bolder. Entering crisis mode,
Tempers flared, tears flowed, trips for groceries became a call for celebration,
Haircuts a miraculous event, Release from house arrest.
Precious family and friends, risked distant contact at outdoor lunch.
We Zoomed, FaceTimed, Skyped, vowing to carry on in COVID solitude,
As we awaited the darkness of winter.”
Stories are medicine. They give us the power to be soothed and to soothe others. Together we overcome adversity through our transformative experience. In fact, there is no culture on earth that doesn’t tell stories. Storytelling is as old as humankind. It’s embedded in our genes, often as a survival technique. We are simply hardwired to tell stories and to listen to them. Tell yours, and listen with thanks to the stories of others. You’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel.