The day when everything changed for me (I exclaim dramatically as I narrate the beginning of a dystopian YA film) began in regenerative stillness, a small waking exhale in the dark curtained womb of my Dublin apartment. Over the last few weeks I’d perfected my ideal morning routine, in which I woke to slow-plucked guitar chords and spent the first half hour of every day bringing myself and my room to an unhurried mindfulness. Cloudy natural light would splice the room in half, and in a yoga mindset, I would pay attention to the aches and reflexes of my body. On March 12, this didn’t go quite as planned, because as I turned off my alarm, I noticed just how many emails and messages I’d gotten overnight. The first email I read was from my Irish History professor, informing everyone that she and the head of Dublin IES had been in the lobby of our apartment building since 3 a.m., and asked “for those who are departing this morning, please stop by and say farewell.”
I look back at that email now and try to recall what that moment felt like. I’m in Grand Haven, MI at the moment, self-isolating before I head back to my family in Indiana. The cacophony of birds is a constant background noise, though especially in the morning when they hop and cling to the old tree just outside the window, which has been barren for the winter but now blushes with burgeoning red berries. Spring is fighting for her turn in the spotlight as she was in Ireland just before we left; the flowers in St. Stephen’s Green were just starting to beckon all the Dubliners out into the sun. Back then, there were no fears or rules about social distancing to keep everyone from dropping their plans and watching the swans glissade down mirrors or the pigeons hop onto older men discussing, debating, resolving and supporting.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Stephen, the professor of my Irish Short Story class, always said, “there’s a poem in that.” The thing was, he said it in response to everything: an interesting story told in class, a revelation on a story’s concept, a sad bit of news.
“I used to have a bird.”
“There’s a story in that!”, etc. He said it, and by halfway through the semester we were all saying it. Not for any deep reason, but because we thought Stephen was a fantastic unrivaled hoot and the best way to express this was to utilize his pearls of wisdom at any chance we had.
The thing is, there is a poem in this. There’s a flock of poems hidden in this whole chiasmic sea of the last few weeks, waiting to be released by some sleight-of-hand trick. Everyone in the world could publish their own chapbook of writings, musings and revelations all centered on the COVID-19 pandemic. Carrie Fisher’s call to “take your broken heart, make it into art” resounds at the moment. There is so much, too much, to process, and there is no golden moment when time stands still enough for us to take stock and reflect. Whatever time we have has to be carved out laboriously in the middle of altering schedules, lifestyle changes and global uncertainty. Even as someone who would love nothing more than to be a writer, I find it difficult setting aside time, even an hour a day, to write or edit my work. My schedule was demolished on March 12. The productivity and motivation I felt when I was in Ireland is long gone, and I struggle just to get homework done on time. I know you all feel that too; it’s universal at this point.
I suppose if I have any advice, or words of encouragement, it comes directly from Stephen: there’s a poem in that. This period in our lives is full of poetry. When I say this, I’m aware it probably sounds cliché, quaint and shallow. I don’t mean that this is a time in our lives to glorify suffering. I just think that this is a time for deep introspection, for a close examination of self and mind or a reflection on personal growth and realization. To me, Stephen’s insistence that “there’s a poem in that” is more an insistence that every moment on this planet is worth the unhurried attention that comes with writing poetry, practicing yoga or a multitude of various things for various people. Poetry isn’t constrained just to the physical act of putting pen to paper, but is more about the mindset you have. I would actually argue that to think without writing is to be a poet, while to write without thinking is to be…um, something else, I suppose. Every moment is a phenomenon worth understanding, considering and eventually, appreciating or learning from. As a friend and I walked the streets of Dublin for one of the last times, I was reminded of that moment in The Lion King where Rafiki informs Simba of something quite profound: that we can either ignore things or learn from them (I think). This held true before COVID-19 and still does now. There’s poetry woven throughout our everyday, just waiting for our minds to pull on the right string.
Even with the destruction of my schedule, I still put in the effort to write every day, because for me it’s in writing that I can truly see the world around me, sifting through it slowly with measured hands until I find the precious stone, the clarity I was looking for. Poetry is a snapshot of an unrestricted moment, lasting however long you want to and enveloping a whole menagerie of human emotions. I urge you to give it a try, whatever that means for you. I don’t mean to try and put a positive spin on a terrible time in the world. These have been a disastrous few weeks, where every week torrents forth new deaths, inequalities, injustices, anxieties, and fears. It’s a world we often want to escape from. But if any good can be done, if there’s any way we can help nurse the wounds, it’s by grounding ourselves in the moment, in an awareness of the inherent beauties and pains that walking the Earth entails. And the first step to this grounding? It’s to realize that there is, in fact, a poem in that. Go write it the way only you can.
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