A new life form in our midst is occupying our attention, showing what something infinitesimally small can do to our whole world—revealing the cracks and the strengths, asking us to ground and relax instead of adding to the spreading fear. In my own ponderings over the last several days, here’s what has emerged.
How long can I hold my breath?
Not long enough to wait this out.
Our lungs take in so many things with air.
Eyes, nose, mouth—
all inward facing portals to mortality.
Changing how we approach each other
or refuse to,
we’re already inventing new hello’s,
foregoing handshakes and hugs
to let our shoes kiss,
our elbows touch.
We might bob our heads
or puff up our chests like pigeons.
Or pirouette like five-year-olds in tutus.
Maybe more of us will bow.
Meanwhile we wait, we watch,
we stock up,
we hunker down.
We try not to overreact.
This isn’t, after all, smallpox.
It isn’t Bubonic plague.
Who knew it would start so simply?
Who knew the universe was listening
when we began to define success
as “going viral”?
This taste of what “we’re all connected” means—
is it the slap that will wake us?
Or a kick before a series of body blows.
A timely stress test of global systems,
like water flushed through aging pipes?
Or a frightening one—
pressurized propane seeking the weakest weld.
We know so little yet.
This might not be temporary.
A new flu with a higher death rate
than we’re used to—
a new incentive to work together
but stay apart?
Consider how untrained we are in vigilance.
Especially about something we can’t see.
Biology is miraculous and ruthless.
Which are we?
Paper masks are nearly useless if you’re well.
If you’re ill, they help safeguard those around you.
May we greet the face behind each mask.
And eye to eye, across the prescribed distance,
say “Thank you and Godspeed,”
not “Go away.”
Where soap and water replace holy water,
let us bless them.
As we wash our hands
and count the seconds to be thorough,
let that counting become holy in its way.
Just as celebrants wash their hands
before the main show of a ritual,
let our hands summon us
to presence and to patience,
over and over and over and over again,
permanently attached at the wrists.