Remembering Life After Self-Isolation

If I described a world in lockdown due to a deadly virus and the majority of people unable to be tested, as well as impending economic doom and a recent earthquake to boot, you might think I’m describing a low-budget apocalypse movie starring Nicholas Cage. 

But, you know as well as I do that this is real life. 

I try not to worry too much over things, but aspirations notwithstanding my daily habits since COVID-19 started hitting the United States have included obsessively scanning all my social media and news apps for the latest information and numbers; I research the best homemade disinfectant recipes, what the latest studies say, and then feel the tightness in my chest that only means anxiety. 

I’m not alone in this process and I think we all could use a little bit of fresh virus-free contemplation. 

Being book people, we’re lucky to have shelves upon shelves of, not only welcome distractions, but also language that speaks to our moment, even when what we read wasn’t explicitly written for it. 

For example, I have been reading U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s An American Sunrise. In this volume, Harjo includes a poem entitled “The Story Wheel.” She begins: 

 

I leave you to your ceremony of grieving

Which is also of celebration

Given when an honored humble one

Leaves behind a trail of happiness

In the dark of human tribulation.

None of us is above the other

In this story of forever.

 

She reminds us we’re in this together and that grief and celebration can coexist. She then describes “buffalo hunting weather,” and “light breaking through a storm.” She depicts a mother making a jingle dress for her daughter and beaded clothing for her son. She finishes:

 

All for that welcome home dance,

The most favorite of all--

when everyone finds their way back together

to dance, eat and celebrate.

And tell story after story

of how they fought and played 

in the story wheel

and how no one

was ever really lost at all. 

 

A lot of us feel anxiety about the future. We don’t know how long we’ll be social distancing and self-isolating. We know the economic impact will be bad, but don’t yet know exactly how bad. We know people will get sick--possibly we’ll get sick. We know more people will die. 

But this poem looks beyond the most immediate future to the time when we can again dance, eat and celebrate. It acknowledges the tribulation and grief of the human experience but tells us that the story wheel will turn once more to when we can be together.

 

An American Sunrise: Poems, by Joy Harjo