"They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise You can hear the birds again." Photo by John Duncan on Unsplash

Bob Brehl: Finding inspiration in times of anxiety

  • March 26, 2020

Millions are now home, sheltered in place, self-quarantined, working remotely, home-schooling, keeping panic at bay but feeling anxiety rise.

Others are heading to work on the frontlines helping the sick in hospital, consoling more and more grieving families. Neighbours are pulling together; taking food and medication to shut-in elders, perhaps the most vulnerable, walking their dogs, exhibiting compassion even if at a social distance. These are the heroes.

Then there are the anti-heroes; those who hoard toilet paper and food, those who ignore public health warnings and behave recklessly, those continuing their Internet and phone scams, and those profiting through peril.

Some of the worst must be the likes of the U.S. politicians who allegedly sold millions of dollars of their personal stock holdings after closed-door briefings about the looming crisis — but before the stock market crashed.

Yet, what we see most are good people trying to cope, dealing with stress, anxiety, mounting financial obligations and much more.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says it’s very common for people to display great resiliency during times of crisis, but while practising social distancing we must not build walls from the world and stay in personal silos.

“Even if we can’t be close physically, we need to stay close emotionally,” the CMHA offers on its website. “So, while you’re staying in, stay in touch with each other, and reach out if you need support.” 

With that in mind, I found a poem from an Irish Franciscan Friar named Br. Richard inspirational, contemplative and soothing. It has been shared around the world; for example, Br. Richard read it on BBC and Anderson Cooper recited it on CNN. It’s called Lockdown:

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

And, of course, there’s always humour, which can be a great stress reliever in times of crisis. We’ve seen the many memes floating around; from a picture of people playing cards using rolls of toilet paper as their poker chips to a woman in quarantine with her husband knitting him “something special” and, looking closely, you see she’s knitting him a hangman’s noose.

One of my favourite jokes came in a friend’s e-mail.

“I just got back from the grocery store,” he wrote.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw when I walked in. This guy had his shopping cart overflowing with toilet paper, hand sanitizer, eggs and milk.

“I was so ticked off, I couldn’t help myself and I laid into him good and long about how others need supplies, especially the elderly. I must have torn a strip off him for 30 seconds. I ended it with, ‘Why don’t you think of others you greedy hoarder?’ He looked at me with anger on his face and asked, ‘Are you done?’ I said yes. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘I’ve got to get back to stocking the shelves.’ ”

Stay safe and be well. One day at a time.

(Brehl is a Toronto writer and author of many books.)

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