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Poetry in Quarantine

28 April 2020

Craving courage during the COVID-19 quarantine, Barbara watched a live online series called The Courage in Poetry by David Whyte on three consecutive Sundays in April 2020.

Tags: balance, barbara read, covid-19, david whyte, mindfulness, music, poetry

When I first stopped leaving the house in mid-March, I would have one to five surges of panic during the day. As I sifted through all the information I was reading and hearing, I thought two weeks had to pass before I could find out if I had been exposed to COVID-19. I settled down some when those two weeks passed but still wanted to figure out how to feel less afraid.

I know thinking and reading bad thoughts over and over again exacerbates fear, and I started learning strategies for managing my anxiety more than 35 years ago. However, this crisis required me to first find the discipline to return to my old tools. Then, I needed to find some new ways to calm myself.

As April began, I offered to help my grandchildren with their homeschooling via FaceTime. I was a high school teacher, and it has been so comforting to connect with them in this way. It has also led to watching my youngest grandson hit golf balls for hours. Who knew we could both enjoy that so much?

I’ve watched many musicians who are sharing their gifts so freely—one in particular over and over—It is Well With My Soul by The Nashville Studio Singer Community. I am meditating three times a week on Zoom at 11:30 am with a church group—we close our eyes and breathe together for 20 minutes. I am sewing masks for family and friends and enjoy letting them pick their fabric.

In addition, my son and I registered for an online series with David Whyte that began 12 April. My daughter and I have both blogged about the ways David Whyte has brought us comfort in the past, and I was relieved to know he wanted to help his readers get through quarantine, too. He is doing another program beginning 17 May.

Whyte began his first session by reciting The House of Belonging. I’ve always liked that poem because I feel the same love for my house that he does for his. I just never anticipated that I would ever “belong to my house” so completely. I didn’t leave it from March 13th until April 13th and then only with a mask on to get an allergy shot where a masked nurse met me outside the door and took my temperature before I could go in and get the shot.

I painted this picture of our home in Charlotte, North Carolina 20 years ago.

The next poem Whyte recited was What to Remember When Waking. The first ten days of quarantine, I had a deep, heavy depressing feeling when I opened my eyes in the morning as the new reality came into focus. Whyte’s first assignment of a different practice was to look at your room or the light coming through the window as if for the first time. Remember you get to have another day to breathe deeply. It's the very thing those who are sick want to have a chance to do again. If that thought makes me too sad, I focus on my new breathing technique.

The third poem was Sometimes. These lines grabbed me, “.…you come to a place / whose only task / is to trouble you / with tiny / but frightening requests….questions / that can make / or unmake / a life.”

All of a sudden this question popped into my head, "Why don’t you call your cousin and tell him how important he was to you when you were growing up?!?” I have loved my oldest boy cousin since I was a little girl. We went to my grandmother’s house every other Sunday. If he was there, I wasn’t going to be bored. I wasn’t afraid to go to the barn where the cows were if I went with him. He gently taught me so much I needed to know. I haven’t had a long conversation with him for over 30 years. Two days ago, we talked for an hour.

After reciting Coleman’s Bed, Whyte suggested another practice of asking yourself, "What can you do today that your future self will come back and thank you for?" I decided to get out my oil paints and see if I could get myself to put them on a canvas again. For some reason, I have not been able to paint for the last five years. I would like to paint a picture of Allison’s sweet dog Henry.

I reread Whyte’s poems and peaceful courage flows back into me. I am also rereading other poets who have inspired the Allison Partners team to blog in the past.

What have you tried to help you stay calm, be brave, and wait patiently for whatever comes next?


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