Last Sunday, I was asked to talk about resilience at church. This is what I said.
I’d like to start with . . . Jane Hirshfield’s poem,
More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.
I wanted to be a pillow, but if there is any lesson in the last 6 months, it is cultivating the tenacity of trees.
Talking resilience in medias res, I had no idea where to begin and what to tell.
That week in march . . .
On Sunday, an email from the superintendent that a Newton student was diagnosed with COVID-19.
On Monday, after-school-Asian Culture Club is cancelled but cooking club is not, so Julia goes there. That evening, she goes to a makeup crew meeting for the high school musical set to go up in a week. Monday night, I go to a mothers of teens on the spectrum support group. Three out of a dozen of us are there. We talk about zoom.
On Tuesday, Anne emails that Music Sunday is cancelled but we will meet for our Wednesday night rehearsal.
On Wednesday, I go to my Cambridge class. Further classes are cancelled but there may be something on Zoom soon. In the afternoon, choir rehearsal cancels. Julia’s Saturday cello lesson cancels and her Sunday theater workshop cancels.
On Thursday, my friend in Italy, emails about their lock down. They need a certificate to leave the house and can only go 200 meters for essential shopping. I tear up. I didn’t know how worried I was about her. About us. FUUSN closes for 4 weeks; Insight Meditation Center for six. Hello Dolly is cancelled. Just before supper, a robocall cancels school for Friday and next week.
And then we are alone. Two of us. In a town we don’t know well where community was still a work in progress.
So what did we do? We did what everyone else did—read, wrote, drew, cooked, meditated, baked, took walks, did puzzles, played games, AND wore masks, washed hands, took off shoes, disinfected surfaces and figured out how to grocery shop once every 2 weeks. Oh, and zoomed. We got up every morning, got ready for our day, tried to fill that day and then . . . repeat. 226 times so far.
And now, we are here, looking to fill another 100? 150? 200 days? How?
How I’ve gotten this far is a variation of Fred Rogers “look for the helpers,” I looked, Not altogether consciously, closer to the blind intelligence of trees, I looked for vigorous community where there was a deep pool of resilience to drink from. I found it doing one of the things I enjoy most in the world. Singing. Simply singing.
FUUSN still has a choir and Anne Watson Born scours heaven and earth to keep us together. Singing. We sing during zoom rehearsals without hearing each other. We sing into our phones to send vocal tracks to Anne so she can put us together to make a choir. We sing masked and spaced out in backyards and school parking lots, Last month it was hot and sweaty and now, just a bit chilly. We persist, we find the light, we sing even when every word is muffled by masks and even when the Sopranos on one side of the parking lot finish the piece almost a measure ahead of the altos on the other side. We persist even though we don’t know when we will be in our practice room and our seats in the sanctuary again.
I want to wrap this up neatly. I want to point out the turtles, rivers, mitochondria, and figs that have arisen from this time and our persistence. I want to point out the fruit of our practice of resilience. I want answers and outcomes; I want the end date. I have only questions, fears and ambiguity. And so, the words of Rainer Maria Rilke come to mind, words that, in their own way, speak of resilience, persistence and tree-like optimism.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
thanks for listening.