March 11 marks a year since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. It is with heavy hearts that we acknowledge this milestone, the loss of life and the many challenges that accompany this situation. We acknowledge the uneven and tragic toll the pandemic is having on the Black community as well as Latinx, Asian, Indigenous and refugee communities. To honor the victims of this global tragedy, and to give voice to our sangha’s personal losses and challenges, Zen Mountain Monastery held a memorial event on March 14th as part of our Sunday morning program.
The memorial included brief eulogies of people who have died from Covid-19 along with Buddhist liturgy that has accompanied the living and the dying of practitioners throughout the ages. You can watch the 40-minute service through this link. Also, you can read the full list of eulogies we assembled for the memorial through this link.
What follows is the second part of our sangha’s memorial response to the pandemic, an outpouring of creative reflections on the loss, alienation, and general bewilderment of the past year. And though there is hope and light, we recognize that some things will never be the same. We recognize that the global death toll continues, passing 2.6 million on the day of this sad anniversary. So we will continue to add to this page as a living memorial, and let it be another candle among the many that other communities and individuals are offering to the world at this time.
If you would like to share something in the vein of what you see below, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading, “Covid memorial.”
Statement: I created it as a form of record keeping during the pandemic. Some lines represent a person who died, or a person I knew who was fighting Covid, or just how I was feeling that day confined to my house. The act of painting it was very slowing and centering, and really helped me cope with the situation and process a lot of feelings. When fear about the pandemic became overwhelming, I would return to Hojin Sensei’s teaching, “just one beautiful mark after another.”
by Katherine Jifu Jamieson
when I arrive
laden in plastic:
gloves, mask, bag, sealed
suffocated bread roll.
I was in the car
rubbing pungent germicide
on my gloved hands
because I do
not want to kill her.
This is early Covid,
and I feel the virus crawling
on me, a thousand silent ticks
about to champ,
make me a secretly febrile
ready to erupt in racking coughs.
There are no risks
I’m willing to take.
Four hundred miles away,
my brother, a pulmonologist,
is also ensconced in plastic,
slathered in Purell,
as he intubates
the first wave
of the coronavirus-sick
in Washington, DC.
He is sleeping in his basement, floors
below his three children and wife, eating
sandwiches in plastic bags
I pray that the PPE will not run out,
that the N95s
will keep the red spikes,
out of his lungs,
that the sick, symptomless colleague
does not approach
him with an innocent question.
After I set down Doris’ meal
I ask if she needs anything else.
New legs, she says
in a softer,
Meanwhile, Liz’s husband is receding
into his stuffed animals,
barely able to wave,
through the window.
Even though she knows
it’s the right thing
for him to go
to an assisted living,
that their life together
is over, over.
I can’t even offer
a gloved hand squeeze,
just my damp eyes above the mask.
The next week I bring
only one meal to her house.
lives with Barb and Jim.
Afraid the obese tabby might escape,
they demand I enter their home,
and close the door behind me, which
feels like sacrilege
and possibly a death sentence.
their son tells me they scream
Get the hell out of my way!
crash around the house,
like furious bumper cars.
No love, he says, shaking his head,
no love there.
Through snow melt and
fiery autumn display,
my car crests the hills
of Western Massachusetts
carrying its bounty
of institutional meals
and watery milk
in little cartons.
I still have no answer
to if the love we give
outweighs the harm we do,
or on purpose,
only that they arise together
in this same world
Medium: Hand-drawn and hand-lettered, polymer plate, letterpress printed on McCoy Matte Cover with metallic inks. Size: 15×21. Edition of 125.
Inspiration: Holding in my mind and heart where we were at the time I made this: 9 months into a pandemic, where everything seemed so isolated, yet we were also so clearly connected, I created this print.
Drawing on a number of themes: interconnection, community, Indra’s net, neuron and cellular structure and connections, telesomatic/one body concept, becoming one instead of two, I developed this interconnected piece of rippling bands.
The resulting print, for me, exemplifies the experience of this pandemic. We seem apart and isolated, however we are more connected than we realize. In fact, there is no separation: the bands seem to appear as individual, yet between each there is actually no boundary and no separation.
The View From the Porch
by Chase Takusei Twichell
Beyond the distant mountains lies the past.
Although you can’t actually see it from here,
it does sometimes produce strange weather patterns,
and smoke sometimes occludes the view.
Otherwise, it’s wilderness. Far mountains,
mid-distance mountains, then woods surrounding.
The pandemic drew those boundaries.
I’m lucky to be locked in a place I love.
From here I can see the whole shrunken world,
and at night the universe.
for all the children
by Rachael Seijo Nevins
The asters were everywhere, and now they are
nowhere, except for a few
in the school garden that have gone to seed.
Our job, I told the children,
is to stay out of the hospital. To survive.
Terror grips my heart, squeezes it.
So many days squandered. This entire year,
but what else were we going to do?
The seeds of the asters are the kind
you can blow away to make wishes.
I wish we had more time.
Time for me to write my poems,
useless as the leaves scattered at our feet.
Time for my children to be children.
By Eve Romm
March – I ran every day, sometimes
for hours, as if I could make myself
stronger and faster than death.
April – I lifted a piece of matzah
towards my laptop and declared – this
is the bread of affliction.
May – The blank wall of shock and disbelief.
Exhausted grief. No reason to expect
the world I knew to return.
June – I had my temperature taken and my hands
sanitized to speak to my grandmother for fifteen minutes,
twelve feet apart, through the rolled down window
of my car.
July – I returned again and again
to the sun-warmed banks of the river.
August – my breath failed me.
September – my body began to shake.
October – humbled by abundance,
I ate my frozen birthday cake for weeks.
November – I ate pizza in the car
in the pouring rain, then shuddered and wept,
afraid of the world.
December – perched on a concrete ledge in a parking lot,
I read my dying grandmother a book of Mark Strand poems
through a cracked-open window.
January – yes, I realized, for the hundredth time,
everything I fear could come to pass.
February – the distance between places seems
so great. To transport my living body
somewhere else: a dangerous waste of effort.
Now March has come again, and living
water gurgles under ice.
Like the small crocuses, bold with their joy,
I strain towards the sun, daring
to hope, daring to hope
that the year’s last frost is past.
The Doing and Undoing of a Modern Jizo
By Rakusan Moshin
Jeez, so you HAVE come into these dark times
with your bare feet, your bald head, your ring-clanking stick,
and your many, many 21st century costumes.
Strange apparition, making your way among throngs of refugees.
Who is hungry? Who is it stands in the rain?
Who wounded, abandoned, and lost?
How now with your old bag of herbs and magic tricks
will you touch these huddled masses?
She was just standing there in her white suit in her white tent
propped up on the black and grit parking lot
where the endless stream of cars rolled solemnly in.
The afflicted, the hopeful, the confused
lowered their windows, tilted their heads back,
and looked into her kindness, her grey eyes.
With impeccable aim she reached into our lives
and captured the wile fluids of our restlessness;
and on a long, long stick,
she lifted the molecular flower and crown of our hunger.
Then the drivers in their white suits and white, refrigerated trucks
carried the white cartons with their writhing cargo
to chill, white rooms and people dressed in crape paper
who, under bright, white lights,
carefully entered the fluids, the fidgeting flowers,
and recorded the keen and savage truth of the day.
Jeez, I thought for sure you’d get sick.
I guess you did.
First the fever, then the ache, the slow, whelming enervation,
the rack and torment in the bones,
the hammer in the head.
Oh, Dear Lady of Munificent, Exhausted Reach,
in this the last of your forgiveness, your rolling eyes,
we receive your quiet cough, your benediction.