“And the People Stayed Home”. This is how the poem starts that, in this period of quarantine and fight against the pandemic, has gone viral. It has a certain effects to use this term today, which no one else makes better the idea of the capillarity and speed with which Kitty O’Meara‘s verses have spread (in spite of itself) from one end of the globe to the other. They remind us how poetry, and art in general, are timeless antidotes to the greyness of reality.
The author begins by describing the objective condition that most people in the countries affected by the epidemic have in common: staying at home. Staying at home is the time to read, to rest, to dedicate yourself to art and paly. But, also to exercise and dance. Therefore, to ‘feed’ the body and, above all, the spirit. To rediscover the beauty that lurks in the ordinary, the marvels of the small things without an end, yet, rich in meaning. Some mediate, and some pray. In this suspended time, people stop and listen.
Two gestures in which we are not accustomed to in times where everyone is running and talking, but few know how to listen. Now there are things to listen to: the rules imposed by governments, the words of scientists, the daily number of victims (alas). But also, the silence, or the chirping of birds normally suffocated by the din of everyday life. Finally, yourself with your own fears and limitations. And who knows if someone doesn’t meet “their own shadow”.
Listening and listening to each other, continues the author in her verses, people become aware and begin to “think differently”. Aware of what? The pope summed it up very well in the homily he gave in March in the surreal setting of a deserted St. Peter’s Square: “Feeling strong and capable of anything, we continued undaunted thinking of always remaining healthy in a sick world”. We realized how unsustainable a social and economic system is based on the idea of progress at all costs. On the illusion that material and economic progress is the universal panacea for all problems. On the transformation of every desire into an essential need. And all and everything, including nature, become a functional means to productivity. Of this model of development, as Claudio Risè has said, “The arrival of the virus is not a bizarre accident but a structural aspect.” By disrupting ecosystems and destroying habitats, we have heard from several scientists, a profound imbalance has been created between man and nature and conditions have been created that are extremely favourable to the spread of the virus.
From this awareness, the writer imagines a total healing: of ourselves from the epidemic, first of all, but also from indifference and ignorance, and from dangerous ways of living. Not only healing us, but also of nature and the whole world. And when they are healed, people “made new choices / and created new ways to live”: there is a world where people re-read priorities and change lifestyles and thought patterns, giving rise to a profound anthropological-cultural-social renewal. A new, less anthropocentric humanism: here’s the change that the writer, after a long time (the whole poem is written in the past tense), evokes in the final verses. Transforming it into the firm certainty of those who, keeper of the memories of the human race, write a letter from the future telling about the healing of humanity.