The Metaphor of Plague

“Human existence is so fragile a thing and exposed to such dangers that I cannot love without trembling.”
~ Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Last night I drove to the Minneapolis Airport Herbert Humphry Terminal 2 to pick up Donna (my partner) who was flying home from Ft. Myers, Florida. She had been down there for a week to be with a dying friend on what will undoubtedly have been her last birthday. We had talked about the risks of flying to Florida as cases of Covid – 19 continued to increase across America and the world. Donna is an RN and she spoke with two epidemiologists about traveling and they said with proper precautions she would be fine. There will be more risk for Donna when she returns to work on Wednesday as a nurse in Duluth, MN. Her going to Ft. Myers a gift of time to a dear friend who will probably not be alive in a month. 

In these times we now find ourselves living in perhaps gifts of time in whatever way are sacred offerings. As Simone Weil said, “I cannot love without trembling.”

When I arrived at the airport, I parked my car and entered the airport to wait for the arrival of Donna’s plane. I wanted to experience what it would be like inside the terminal. It was eerily quiet and vastly empty. I walked around soaking in the absence of humanity in a space usually occupied with life. I observed and took photos and I thought to myself is this what Covid – 19 (a post-modern plague) is doing to humanity? Creating spaces and suspending time. Or as the Irish poet says in the interview below, “diverting newness.” Not that Covid – 19 is in itself something good, it is in fact horrible. Yet, what we as humanity do in spite of it and in the face of it and because of it which, “…takes our eyes away from the obsession of the moment.” This can define us by embracing the fragility of life with compassion in a time of anxiety and suffering. 

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.”

~ John 8:6-8 NRSV

I thought of this image of Jesus writing in the sand because of an interview I heard years ago. This portion of an interview is taken from the Paris Review, Fall of 1997 No. 144. It is called “Seamus Heaney, The Art of Poetry No. 75” where Heaney is interviewed by Henri Cole. The complete interview is here: (http://www.theparisreview.org/…/the-art-of-poetry-no-75-sea…)

INTERVIEWER

“Don’t you argue in an essay—using the example of Jesus writing in the sand—that poetry has the power to suspend violence? You suggest that it wasn’t important what Jesus wrote in the sand, but it was the unexpected gesture of his turning away from the stoning of a prostitute and writing in the sand that stops the stoning or suspends it.”

HEANEY

“Yes. Debate doesn’t really change things. It gets you bogged in deeper. If you can address or reopen the subject with something new, something from a different angle, then there is some hope. In Northern Ireland, for example, a new metaphor for the way we are positioned, a new language would create new possibility. I’m convinced of that. So, when I invoke Jesus writing in the sand, it’s as an example of this kind of diverting newness. He does something that takes the eyes away from the obsession of the moment. It’s a bit like a magical dance.”

So, the metaphor of plague “…a bit like a magical dance…” or put another way an opening to something new. What can we hold onto and sustain together? What injustices can we avert by our own writing in the sand? Are there diversions we can create by gifts of time to bear witness to a shared renewal in humanity? To not allow, “…the terror of the unforeseen…” to paralysis us.

“…the unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way round, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as ‘History,’ harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.”
~ Philip Roth, The Plot Against America

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