We had not heard of poet Lynn Ungar before we saw her poem Pandemic. It offers a deeply affirming way to view this “strange and terrible” time, referencing an ancient practice.


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Invited to join friends who celebrated the Sabbath every week, we were struck by the powerful practice of gathering with them at their table to share a meal, with everything turned off, all work and “busyness” and news set aside, “centered down” with friends and family, the only focus the present, and gratitude. Oliver Sachs described it perfectly in his essay “Sabbath“:  “The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time”.

Ungar’s poem points the way to generating this feeling virtually, with virus-mandated distances maintained.

Jeremy Deller’s ‘More Poetry is Needed, Swansea, 2014’ is another wise and heartening practice.

With thanks to Susan Dworski, our brilliant editor-at-large.

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