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  • Writer's pictureSona Schmidt-Harris

COVID-19 - A Time of Poets and Philosophers

From the Iola Register


It is not often that the world looks collectively inward.

Shuttered in our homes, both by choice and by mandate, we have rarely had so much time on our hands or had to face so directly what lies within the walls of our homes and minds.

Echoes of the past reverberate, and we wonder how others we have known are doing or sometimes if they are even living.

Some of us are busier than ever working at home and tending to our children's well-being and education. Even so, the reality of what is, is before us.

Our fellow beings are suffering with sickness, and in some locations like New York, Spain, and Italy, dying in unprecedented numbers not seen since the great 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Paradoxically, it is a time when we need to look inwardly and outwardly at the same time and be both self and community minded. Poets and philosophers have understood this for centuries.

For instance, from Emily Dickinson's, “I Measure Every Grief I Meet,” she states:

I measure every Grief I meet

With narrow, probing, Eyes —

I wonder if It weighs like Mine —

Or has an Easier size.

The speaker first looks inward at her own grief, and then moves almost immediately to measure it against others' grief, paradoxically looking inwardly and at the whole at the same time.

Further, In Frederich Nietzsche's, Will to Power he states:

The first question is by no means whether we are content with ourselves, but whether we are content with anything at all. If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not

only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things, and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event – and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.” (Will to Power, 1032)*

Nietzsche asks us to consider whether “we are content with anything at all,” and concludes that if we are content with any single moment, we confirm all of existence. Additionally, he claims, “For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things,” again, moving from the individual to the whole.

In modern times, the very cool (and I am so glad there are artists far cooler than I am) singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs calls upon a man to look inwardly and creatively calls out the negative way we relate to others in “Lowdown”:

This dog eat dog existence sure is getting old

Got to have a Jones for this

Jones for that

This runnin' with the Jones's, boy, just ain't where it's at, no, no

You gonna come back around

To the sad, sad truth, the dirty lowdown

Though Scaggs did not have the COVID-19 pandemic in mind, it nevertheless applies. He looks at our society in general wherein we “Got to have a Jones for this” and comments on the whole, but then narrows it down to the individual asking him to face “the dirty lowdown.”

None of us particularly likes facing, “the dirty lowdown” within ourselves; however, now is the time to do it. It is also the time to reach out (though behind masks and from within the walls of our homes) to our communities and realize that we are not alone, in self-sufficiency or in our suffering.

The collective wound of the whole can lead to the spiritual healing of the whole.

*Quoted from “Nietzsche and the Problem of Suffering – Van Harvey on the metaphysical aspects of an anti-metaphysical philosophy.”

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