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As you read this and you take your next breath you may notice again the palpable disbelief and shock in the air. Society globally has not faced human mortality with such constant force for many years. What do we do in the face of this? It is staring us down. As W.H Auden puts it: trials and terror have come to us ‘in a form that we do not expect and certainly with a force more dreadful than we can imagine’. We seem to be presently in the shock phase of trauma and grief. We face huge human emotions on a phenomenal scale. Collective disappointment about all the cancellations of  plans we had  made and hoped for and assumed would come to pass. Collective confusion as we look out into the great unknown and there are no straight forward answers or easy fixes or timely resolutions.

We meet fear head on and talk about it for it a change. Auden’s writings in his book ‘For The Time Being’ urge us to ‘seek the Truth in the Kingdom of Anxiety’. As we dwell in this space of anxiety may we seek what is deeply true about our lives together.

What the past tells us, what other cultures tell us, is that we are not super humans but human humans and as such we are adaptable. Hugely adaptable. We are resourceful and kind and able to dig deep. As with any trauma or grief we will learn, out of necessity, to live with a new normal. We have no idea how long this adjustment will last. We are likely to never be the same, for this too will change us. So what we do with our next breath matters, and not just for now, for we come in a long line of human experience and those who come after may look our way for guidance. As Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says:

Lives of great men all remind us

   We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

   Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

   Seeing, shall take heart again.

2 thoughts on “What the poets can teach us

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