The pandemic rages around the world. Even isolated villages and towns feel the impact of COVID-19. In Europe, leaders are making hard decisions, including locking down countries. In America, we debate whether or not to wear masks and social distance. “Are you tired?” asked the Editorial Board of a local paper, listing ‘the noise’ associated with the political and public discourse that envelops us.
All of it makes me think of my career as a half- and full-marathon runner. You have a long distance to travel in those races. To persevere to the finish, you need to maintain pace and form–especially during the last crucial miles.
Like the well-trained marathoner, a well-read person will have an arsenal to call upon during tough times as now. As a humanities teacher, I always sought to expose students to literature that taught a lesson. A brief poem, such as Earl by Lewis Jenkins, carries a lesson that, once learned, will help as we encounter difficult times, enhancing our ability ‘to get on with it‘ — words spoken to me by an English haberdasher in his store on Oxford’s Turl Street.
Like all people, I am tired of the turmoil and uncertainty of this pandemic. However, my spouse and I are privileged. We cope with the inconvenience of it all, nothing like that of a parent with school-aged children or a person who has lost her or his job.
Even so, to understand others’ plight, I am again reminded of how literature can inform us. Consider the poem, Ithaka, by C.P. Cavafy.
This week, my wife helped me understand the importance of which I speak by sharing the announcement that Sean Connery had passed. Connery had a connection to the poem.
Years ago, Sir Sean said that although his big break came when he was only five years old, it took him until he was seventy years old to realize it. That ‘break?’ He had learned how to read. Reading changed Connery’s life. It offered insights. It opened doors. He said,
‘James Bond,’ you see, devoured literature. “It’s the books, the reading, that can change one’s life,” he said.
So listen to Connery read the words of Cavafy. Hear the music of Cavafy’s phrases. See visuals. Most of all, allow Cavafy to assure you that the trials we face are part of our journey. Whatever is now, that, too, shall pass.
Allow meaning to enter your soul, to give you comfort. You, like Odysseus, can gain Ithaka–a safe harbor, our restful home.