How Will COVID Change Us? I Hope We Remember That the Arts Sustained Us

Prince Charles uses Namaste greeting

There’s no question that we’re going to be changed by this COVID pandemic. You can’t go through something like this and not be altered in some way. Sadly, some of us will lose a friend or loved one to the virus. Some will have had a major life event (perhaps a wedding or graduation) cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Millions will lose their livelihoods. Savings will be eviscerated. We will all suffer hardship to a greater or lesser degree.

Some self-reflection may come out if it as well. Maybe we’ll discover a resilience in ourselves that we didn’t realize we had. Maybe we’ll find out that we actually enjoyed our solitude more than we would have thought. (Or maybe we’ll realize that we hated it more than we would have expected.)

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Sonnet XXIX

These past two weeks I’ve been witness to a few of the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to (as Hamlet lamented), and not any soliloquy-worthy tragically-romantic shocks of the flesh either. I mean the more mundane, microbial, viral- and secondary-infection kind: those that require emergency visits to health care providers and multiple prescriptions and boxes and boxes of tissue.

So all I can do this week is to share one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s about feeling miserable and sorry for oneself, and then getting a bit of perspective on the situation. I leave it as a sort of offering to the Gods in the hopes that they’ll allow me to be recovered enough to write next week.

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Much Ado About Learning

Shakespeare me

This year I’m participating in the Shakespeare 2020 Project, wherein members are challenged to read Shakespeare’s entire canon in one year. All 37 plays, 154 sonnets, plus poems, books and even a few things that he may not have actually written. So far, it’s going pretty well, but it’s early days yet.

Part of the fun of this experience (adventure?) (boondoggle?) is the distraction of discovering so many Shakespeare-related resources, recordings, productions, quotes, household products, t-shirts, and of course memes.

One quote in particular has stuck with me:

Compulsory Shakespeare gives a student as much love for literature as compulsory chapel gives them reverence for religion.

Isn’t that the truth.

In fact, when I mentioned to one of my friends that I would be spending (wasting?) (investing?) my entire year reading Shakespeare and that she might want to join me, she answered with an emphatic no! and went on to explain that she had been forced to study Shakespeare in high school and that it was such a bad experience — and it had made her feel like such a failure — that she has not and will never read anything he’d written ever again. Certainly, it’s fair to say, no love of literature was created there.

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Invictus: I Am the Captain of My Soul

Sometimes we’re lucky and stumble upon just the right thing at just the right time. I felt precisely that way when I re-discovered this poem:

Invictus
by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Eleanor Roosevelt: July 23, 1943

“So my plea is that those who have the gift of words, use them in these days to give the people hope by which to live and dream, for without the vision we shall perish.”

I have deep admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States during one of our country’s most challenging times. She had bold, and you might even say modern, opinions about political, social, and racial issues. She was articulate, thoughtful, outspoken, and worked tirelessly for the causes she believed in.

In so many ways she was a woman well ahead of her time.

We could benefit from her voice today. And so I think that I will post regular quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt, starting with this one, which I believe is quite appropriate for those of us who read and write blogs:

“So my plea is that those who have the gift of words, use them in these days to give the people hope by which to live and dream, for without the vision we shall perish.”
From her nationally syndicated “My Day” newspaper column, July 23, 1943.