Wise words from the incomparable Kate Mulgrew. I adore this woman.
Letter to my fellow Pandemicites,
All of the words and phrases du jour have already become cliche: unprecedented, social distancing, mitigation, quarantine, isolation, sheltering in place. They are clear, arresting words that evoke any number of sensations, depending on the hour, the news of the moment, the behavior of your loved ones. They are new words, quickly aging. To me, it is both fascinating and absolutely astounding that we have been united globally by a virus that allegedly emanated from a wet market in Wuhan, China.
It could be called: a wee bat shat and it was felt around the world.
We are in this together and we will climb out of it together. There are choices to be made. Big ones: will I be philosophical about this, or will I be furious? Will I be patient, or will I be impossible? Will I grow or will I atrophy?
Small ones: will I make the bed every day? Will I plan and execute interesting meals? Will I take a walk in the early morning and watch the sun, unmoved by this pandemic, untouched by our despair, rise as it has done for the past 4.5 billion years?
We are, in ourselves, utterly insignificant – but what we do with that knowledge is what raises us above the rest of the animals.
So I say: in this time of extraordinary challenge, exercise your right to be deeply human. Be surprised by your own generosity of spirit. Don’t be afraid of fear, confusion or anxiety. We are living through an Unknown Pandemic, and we have every right to be unsettled.
I have a suggestion. It is something that has always worked for me and might work for you, but you need to give it a good shot. A few hours of uninterrupted quiet. Enforced discipline, if you will.
Read. Start big, too, because life is short, and once you start you will probably find that you cannot stop. The following books have led me through more catastrophes and heartache than I can possibly count, because their authors understood the essential drama of being flawed, of yearning for love, of courage, of being deeply human.
Here’s a partial list of my all-time favorites. Try them. If you don’t come out of this a better human being, you will certainly be a wiser one. Bring new meaning to ‘sheltering in’.
- In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
- The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
- The Rachel Cusk Trilogy:
I’m currently working on a novel, so that takes me temporarily off the hook. Which is to say, I’m reading Harlan Coben for my sins.
Stay in, stay horizontal, feed your ravenous brains.