Patience is becoming a problem. We are all becoming work increasingly tired of the pandemic. Moreover, rising hopes have made the current precarious situation of fear and confusion, strong variants and stubborn vaccination rejection even more frustrating.
Although we thought we were nearly out of the woods now, there is no end to this forest. There are many other negative and worsening news, including daily evidence of climate change’s catastrophic effects. How can we survive this torrent of bad news? How do we adapt?
Human beings adapt in the same way they have always done grudgingly, stoically and fearfully. We are currently in an extended period of frighteningly bad news, and if you follow the 24-hour news cycle, it’s up to your chins. How good was the news? What was the Golden Age exactly? Randall Jarrell, a poet, wrote that the Golden Age was when people complained about how yellow everything looked.
Keep On Keeping On Work
Most people will continue to do what they love, even in dire circumstances. Homeric epics date back to the eighth century B.C. and are concerned with grief and survival. The Iliad speaks of Achilles’ grief at the loss of Patroklos, his beloved, but not a family member. Apollo, the god of Apollo, reminds the Olympians that it could be worse.
- A man is certain to lose someone dearer
- A brother or sister born from the same womb as his son,
- But he let it go after he had wept and grieved.
- For the Fates, mankind has an unbreakable heart.
Human beings can be more resilient and adaptable than we think. Andrew Delbanco, a scholar and author, observed in July 2020 that four months ago, I thought Zoom meant the sound of an engine. Coronavirus hit, sending the students home. We faculty were then given a few days to learn how Zoom taught us the rest of the semester.
Zoom Video Conferencing
The spring semester 2020 was much longer than the Zoom videoconferencing, but the need for it has not diminished. Delbanco notes that students who had been scattered throughout the globe were thankful to be able to connect, even though they felt the virtual classes were a weak imitation of the real thing.
Many of us were able to adapt to virtual life, but we were told this summer that we could start to move out of remote mode. This was a significant change which created its own anxieties. Plato’s cave metaphor is a reminder to me. Socrates suggested that any prisoner being dragged out of the cave by force would feel pain and rage until they became used to the stars, moon, shadows, and light of the sun.
The nonvirtual world of in-person classes may feel similar. They will adapt. It’s possible that the adaptations will not be needed as quickly as they do with the other variants of the delta variant. Patience and hope are more useful concepts than the provocative, but recently ubiquitous trope of whiplash.
The Thing About Feathers Work
Homer’s contemporary Hesiod tells us in his poem, Works and Days, that Pandora, a seductive figure and gods deceitful gift, opens her jar and unleashes all the evils, including pestilence. Hope is left behind. We are so blessed to have hope. What would we do without the thing with feathers/that perches upon the soul? Emily Dickinson famously described it.
It’s difficult to find the strength to endure in the face of despair. Jane Goodall said these words in context of climate change, extinction, but they are equally relevant to any other dire situation. We absolutely must know all the doom, gloom, because we are at a crossroads. Goodall says that while traveling around the globe, I saw animal and plant species being save from the brink, and people taking on what seemed impossible. These stories are what give hope to people.
Although hope is sometimes frustrating, mocking and frustrating when it fails, it can also be frustrating when it ends up being premature. This was the case this summer. Who would have thought that vaccines could be develop so quickly a year ago? Was that our hope? We forget so quickly.
It is important to balance the expectations of the future with the needs of the present. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (19th-century English poet) captures this balance beautifully in his sonnet Work without Hope. Work without Hope draws nectar from a sieve, Hope without an object is dead.
At Sea With Broken Oars
It is possible to look out for the bigger picture and see the possibility of a brighter future than what may seem like an endless, bleak horizon.
We can also look at the small things, and the many occasions of gratitude that we may not have even imagined last year. It’s still the seasons, and it’s now early autumn with all its small and large changes. On August 12, 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote. The days have been sensibly shorter; music is still possible in the evening. Thoreau was acutely aware of the Mexican War and slavery as well as the pervasive feeling of approaching crisis. He also observed each day as it passed.
George Seferis, a Nobel laureate and Greek poet, wrote a lengthy poetic sequence called Mythistorema that recounts the timeless version of The Odyssey. My favourite line We put the sea again with our broken boats.
Safe is was writing in 1935 and it meant one thing to him and his generations of readers. It means something else to me now in 2021 to me and my students. Lauren Artres, the Reverend Lauren Artres 1995 study on the labyrinth in spiritual practice” wrote that “everyone has a different experience because we each bring different raw material to it.”
The Age of Iron. Cave dwellers resist the terrifying sunlight. The human heart that endures. The difficulties that await you even after Odysseus has landed on Your Ithaca. Broken oars. The vitality of hope. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to continue teaching literature, whether it be in person or remotely. Recall Coleridge’s sad formulation. Work with hope. Hope with an object.