Blessings from the Pandemic

a poetry cycle for performance
by Rich Orloff

In March 2020, as the Covid-19 crisis worsened, I gazed out the window of my New York apartment, and a poem appeared in my mind.  Since then I’ve written over 50 poems responding to this challenging time.  The poems range in style and topic from the mundane to the spiritual.  To my delight, many have been presented at theaters, synagogues, churches, and other groups around the country.

I’ve collected these “prayer poems” into a performance piece called BLESSINGS FROM THE PANDEMIC, which has been performed at JET Theatre in Michigan and is scheduled to be performed at Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Company in early 2021.

Here are some of my favorite poems from the collection.  If you’d like to read the full collection, just send me an email.  They’re available for both reading and performance.

All poems copyright © 2020 Rich Orloff

a prayer for now
(March 18, 2020)

Taking a break this morning from the news and the fear,
I look out the window and see a bright blue sky.
I take a breath and I remember:

I am healthy
I have friends
I am loved
I offer love
I’ve never really known what the future will bring
I am grateful for the gift of life, however long it will last
These are the truths I will meditate upon during this challenging time

And let us say, Amen

a prayer for laundry

The other night in my building’s laundry room
A woman sighed to me about having to do laundry
I told her that I had been self-quarantined for two weeks
And that I had been looking forward to the moment
When the two weeks had passed
And I could enter the laundry room again

Thank you, God, for the blessing of laundry
Thank you for the blessings
Of washers and dryers
Of detergents and water
Of electricity and heat

Forgive me for not appreciating them enough
Forgive me for taking things for granted
Forgive me for any moment I’m not filled with awe
Thank you for the blessings of everyday miracles

a prayer outside the supermarket

The other day outside the supermarket
A security guard prevented a man from entering
Because he wasn’t wearing a mask

The man ranted and raved
And said that the pandemic was a hoax
What a madman, I thought
What an idiot!

The idiot madman yelled to anyone who would listen,
“Do any of you even know anyone who has died from COVID-19?”
“Yes,” I said.  “I know someone who has died.”
“I know someone who has died, too,” the man replied.
“My brother died a week ago from a heart attack.
The doctors said it was COVID-19, but I don’t believe them.”

I will never know if he was right or not,
but I can say this:

My apologies to all the alleged madmen and idiots
I’ve encountered over the years
Forgive me for believing I know the full story
Forgive me for thinking I know enough to make judgments
Forgive me for enjoying the feeling
Of believing I’m better than you

I said to the man, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
And I wish I had added:

I can only guess at the pain you feel
And how you struggle as you find a way to grieve
I apologize for my presumptions about you
And I apologize to the world
Because I’m sure I’ll make the same mistake again

a reflection on distance

Since the pandemic has begun, there are questions
that I now reflect on that I never thought about before.
This is one of them:

Would I like you so much if you weren’t six feet away from me?
I mean, I really like getting to know you
But part of me is very glad
That you’re at least six feet away from me

To be honest, I’m kind of shy
And there have been people I’ve been with
People I’ve touched
People whose skin I pressed closely against mine
And in my heart, I was still keeping them six feet away from me

So maybe this situation we find ourselves in
Actually has some blessings
Including the blessing that
In our fast food, fast love culture
It might be nice to take things slow

Perhaps this is wisdom our ancestors knew
Why courtship became a ritual
Why modesty was respected
Why anticipation became such a popular form
Of foreplay

So let’s enjoy the view
Of each other on the screen
Let’s explore what happens
When bodies are separated
And only souls can touch

Let me get to know your smile
And slowly show you mine
Until that day when limits are lifted
And we face that formidable question:
Will you like me so much if I’m not six feet away from you?

a prayer for those wondering where God is

I watch the news and I keep wondering
Where is God in all this?
And a quiet voice replies:

I am not only in the heroes we know about
The health care workers, grocery clerks and more
But also in everyone who cares for them
And those who care for them
And those who care for them

I am in friends who buy your groceries when you can’t go out
The child who takes joy in silliness and play
The dog who says, “Hey, let’s hang out more!”
And the sun that rises each morning
Even when obscured by the darkest clouds

I am in the elected official who
When put to the test
Shows what it means to be a public servant
Searching for answers that lie beyond
The decaying bumper stickers of politics

And I am even inside those who don’t hear me
Who have taped over my voice
Who have thrown me into soundproof rooms
I am in each and every one of them,
Shouting patiently…
Come back

I am in everyone and everything
That reminds you
That even as we suffer
Even as some die
There is still beauty in the world

And yes, I am inside you
Whether you listen or not
Whispering to you softly
You have a role
Help me
Help me
Help me

a blessing on the mundane

A friend has never appreciated his tiny backyard more
A friend without a backyard has turned her fire escape into her front patio
A friend without a backyard or fire escape
Has fallen in love with her “luscious, yummy couch”

I will listen politely to raptures
About the songs of birds
The magic of fireflies
And the joy of seeing trees bloom in the spring

But what I’d really like to discuss is my newfound appreciation
Of frozen vegetables
Such a variety of blends
Each waiting patiently to take its turn
On the turntable of my microwave
Which has become a faithful companion
Ever since they discovered a gas leak in my building
And my stove became like one of those relatives
Who never brings anything to family dinners

Thanks also for the sweet and comforting caress
Of moisturizing lotion
Which prevents my frequently washed hands
From turning as dry as desert dust

Gratitude for toilet paper, of course
But also to whoever invented the machine
That evenly spaces all those perforations
A masterful contribution of tiny little voids

Hurrah for the mundane
The unglamorous supporting players in the drama of life
Never demanding attention
Dependably playing their roles

Let me shower you with applause
Let me shine a spotlight on your blessings
Let us say Amen
And let us shout Bravo!

a prayer for touch

Today, months since I’ve felt the touch of another human,
I meditate on this:

When the pandemic is over
I will stroke your brow
And caress your face
And let you weep

I will touch you softly
Knowing how raw you are
And I will peel off your armor
Slowly
Putting it in a safe place in case you need it again

I will let you sink into my arms
And let the unfamiliar become familiar again
I will hold you
Yes all of you
Including the place that yearns to fall apart
And longs for the day when you can

I’ll let you lie on my lap
And curl into a ball
And let your body say Kaddish
As I gently stroke your hair

I will calm the places that are still trembling
That refuse to believe it’s safe to feel again
I will press gently on those places till they know
It’s safe to surrender again

I will coax your smile out of hiding
Dance as close to you as I can
And whisper in your ear
Yes
It’s time again for Yes

Or maybe I don’t have to wait for that day
Maybe somehow
Some way
I can do all those things for you sooner
I may be far away
But I promise you
I’m here for you
Right here for you
Right now

a reflection on two walks

Last night I took a midnight walk
Even though this week
New York City has an 8 p.m. curfew

I wasn’t worried
I’m a middle-aged white guy
In a middle class neighborhood
And I assumed if a cop stopped me
I’d just say
On my way home, Officer

Today I took another walk
And I looked at the face
Of a Black man walking by
And for the first time I really got
That if he was in the wrong place
With the wrong cop
He might be dead

As I continued my walk
I looked at faces of other people of color
With each face I realized
That man could be the next George Floyd
That woman could be the next Breonna Taylor

When the demonstrations started
I supported the cause, like a good liberal
But I hoped things could calm down soon
And the stress of now would disappear

Now I understand why the protests need to continue
Until my resistance is so worn down
That when I walk down the street
I remember that Black Lives Matter is not only a concept
But a deep prayer
To be repeated
And repeated by us all
Until that prayer is answered

a prayer about pros and cons

If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic
And if I wasn’t forced to shelter in place
I’d be seeing movies and plays
Dining out with friends
And possibly finding that special someone

If I wasn’t in the middle of a pandemic
I’d be wondering if I just wasted two hours seeing that stupid movie
Thinking about how much the ticket cost for that awful play
Looking at my credit card bill
And thinking I need to stop eating out so much

Or, I’d be telling friends that I’d love to meet them for dinner
But I’m so busy
Let’s wait till that movie comes out on Netflix
Then we’ll watch twenty minutes and decide
Life’s too short to keep watching

I’d be exhaustively analyzing my last date
Wondering if there should be a next
Filling my head with both good and bad endings
About the date we haven’t had yet
And if I should get out now before the horrible break-up

I’d be filling up my To Do list
And responsibly checking things off
I’d be getting more accomplished
But taking fewer walks
Or spending as much time appreciating each new day

When I’m no longer in the middle of the pandemic
There’s so much I want to do
But I hope I won’t be too busy to recognize
That sometimes the most beautiful part of a play
Is intermission

a reflection on dog logic

Recently a neighbor got a dog
A used dog
One that had been abused

When my neighbor left for work every morning
The dog would start to bark
And keep barking
Until my neighbor returned in the evening

Day after day
The dog did this
Until my neighbor realized she had to bring the dog back to the pound

A friend said to me
It’s so sad the dog didn’t learn
That her owner would return
And barking wasn’t necessary

Oh, I said, that’s human logic
I’m sure the dog thought
I barked eight hours yesterday, and my owner returned
I have to start barking now if I want her to come back

My friend and I laughed
And my friend wanted to continue our conversation
But I was too busy
There are so many things I’m worried about
So I have to start barking now

a prayer about being human

I know a lot of people say
The pandemic is the worst thing
They’ve ever had to endure
These people have never spent a day in my brain

Oh, the drama!  The conflict!
The anxious thoughts that pop up at bedtime
And yell “Surprise!”

This being human thing
Some days I’m just not up to it
It’s exhausting and relentless
I need a break

Can I just be a cartoon character
Where even after I get walloped and blown up
In the very next scene
It’s as if the explosion never happened

Can I just be a sitcom character
Where nothing too awful ever happens
Where every mistake gets a hearty laugh
Where by the end of a half-hour my inner audience will go “aww”

I’ve met so many people
Who I swear are two-dimensional
Who have convinced me they go through the day
As if all their troubles are all easily solved

So forgive me if some days
I can’t take the pandemic too seriously
Because I know one day it will be over
But whatever I face next
I’ll still have to deal with this being human thing

a prayer about normal

The other day a friend asked
If we’d ever return to normal
And I wondered
What exactly is this thing called normal?

Every normal is just a phase
A cluster of agreements made by those who believe them
Or who are too scared to believe anything else

For many years I was so afraid to be anything but normal
That most of me became a stranger
Locked behind a door marked
Do Not Enter

But I was never that good
At actually being normal
Unless you consider pretending to be normal
The most normal activity people do

When the pandemic ends
And the scar tissue heals
I pray for the strength to resist normal’s grip
I pray instead to live in discovery and awe

Please look for me
I have no idea where I’ll be
Perhaps I’ll be frolicking with others who don’t choose to be normal
But who wish to explore with abnormal joy
This adventure called life

a prayer about the bad days

On the bad days
(And if you haven’t had bad days,
you can stop paying attention right now)

On the bad days
(Oh good, you’re still here!)

We are bonded by so much
Our systems are under strain
Our structures have bared so much weight
For so long
That the alarm bell has become a constant hum

What connects us on these days without touch
Is our feelings
Our yearnings
Our awareness of how much is unknown
And will stay unknowable
Until the very moment it is known

Do not demand answers,
I tell myself
Just seek out those who understand your questions
Do not seek out those who will fix
Just relish the company of those who can listen

And if you’re still here with me
Thank you for the blessing of your company
And for reminding me
That even on the worst days
We never need to go through this alone

a blessing on your ass

After months without contact
With another body
I have to say…
You have a lovely tush

As we stood there in the park
Facing away from each other
Rubbing our butts together
Giggling with youthful joy

This will not replace hugging
This will not replace kissing
This will not replace holding your face in my hands
Or pressing you against my heart

But for now
A blessing on your ass
I hope we were role models
And that the next time I’m in the park
I will see hundreds of people
Rubbing against each other’s butts

And when that day comes
We may not be over the pandemic
But our inner children will be set free

a prayer about the meeting                             

When it’s time to hold the meeting
Give fear a place at the table
When fear feels estranged from your gatherings
It only works harder to be let in

When it’s time to hold the meeting
Give grief a place at the table
Grief is only passing through
It has healing powers like no other

When it’s time to hold the meeting
Give anger a place at the table
Let it shout till it loses its voice
Only then can it give up and listen

When it’s time to hold the meeting
Give joy a place at the table
Do not ask it to justify its presence
Or it will quickly run away

When it’s time to hold the meeting
Give ego a place at the table
But for God’s sake, don’t hand it the gavel
Treat it with respect; it’s a warrior for your wounds

And whatever you do
When it’s time to hold the meeting
Make sure you keep one seat empty
A stranger may appear
Bringing gifts of wisdom, mercy and grace
Only then
Will the meeting be ready to begin

a prayer about a day in the park,
or how to celebrate a birthday during a pandemic

I spent my birthday in a park in Brooklyn
Surrounded by friends with masked faces and open hearts
With yummy snacks and ample hand sanitizer
Under a warm sun and September breeze

Three nights earlier
We gathered on Zoom
To discuss boundaries and safety
And to affirm how much we cared about each other’s comfort

If there had been no pandemic
We still might have gathered
But we wouldn’t have been given this opportunity
To deepen our trust in each other

It was a day filled with joy
And a bit of:  Screw you, Covid-19!
We will respect you
But we won’t be intimidated by you

If there had been no pandemic
I still might have had a sweet birthday
But since I don’t live in an “if” world
I give thanks for the day I had

Covid, you may look like a menace
But I suspect you have no idea
None at all
How many blessings you bring with you

a prayer as it turns cooler

Why is it
That just when I’ve gotten used to it being summer
Fall begins

As I take a walk wearing a T-shirt and shorts
I think:

I’m not ready for it to get cooler
I’m not ready for long-sleeve shirts
And then sweaters and sweatshirts
And jackets and coats

There’s a cool breeze against my exposed legs
But my mind is already in the depth of winter
The icy wind challenging my every step

Then I snap back to now
And remember
Oh right
I’ve been through dozens of winters
And did fine

Sometime between now and the future
I need to remember
I have all sorts of skills
That I packed away with my winter clothes

a prayer for diving into the muck

As the Days of Awe approach,
A voice inside me tells me:
Don’t rush over the muck!

The muck is where the juicy stuff is
Here you can unearth treasures
Hidden under the cover of mud

Here you will find a large set of keys
Most won’t help you at all
But one will unlock doors to brighter days

Here you will find an old packet of seeds
That if planted in your soil
Can still blossom into beautiful flowers

Here you find remnants of old loves
Pressed in books that have been discarded
But which can still teach and inspire

Here you will find the missing part of your heart
Waiting like a piece of luggage
Whose claim tag you threw away years ago

Here you will also find your shadow
And your shadow’s shadow
Hard coarse rocks that can be buffed into beautiful gems

I pray for the courage to dive into the muck
And to know that anything I discover
Can be washed with my tears until it glistens

a prayer about admitting sins

The great thing that happens
When I admit my sins to God
Is that God usually replies
“You think I didn’t know that?!”

The purpose of admitting sins
Isn’t to inform God of your sins
But to acknowledge to God
Your awareness of them

Hiding is an act of supreme egotism
The belief that you can skillfully pretend
And that God will buy it –
Good luck with that!

Denying sins is just so foolish
It will keep you stuck exactly where you are
And remaining exactly where you are
Is a prayer that’s rarely answered

The Divine wishes to heal the real me
Not the pretend me
If I surrender my defenses
Perhaps I can reclaim my soul

a prayer about acceptance

When are you going to accept
That your biggest roadblock to feeling blessed
Is your stubborn belief
That you’re not blessed

When are you going to accept
That resistance is a prison
And that to achieve happiness
You must give up the comfort of your cell

When are you going to accept
That salvation does not lie in answers
That only by embracing the mysteries
The road to healing will begin

When are you going to accept
That to connect with God
You may need to let go of everything you were taught
About who God is

When are you going to accept
That you’re God’s creation
That God accepts you’re human
Far more than you do

I ask myself these questions
And though I think I know what the right answers should be
I must confess
There’s a deep place in me which answers “I don’t know”

And while I struggle with these questions
A quiet voice tells me
Of course the Divine loves you
And best of all
God is willing to tell you this
As many times as it takes
Till you listen

 a prayer about God’s representatives

Today I hear:
This would be a good day to receive God’s love
Through other people

Healing is not a solitary activity
Healing is not a spectator sport
Healing is a life’s commitment
Starting now

Do not listen to the demon of disbelief
Do not listen to any voice that says
Yes, you deserve to be miserable

If there is divinity in each of us
There must be divinity in you, too

Seek the holy ones
Let them breathe you in
When you walk among humans
You play with God

Your divine presence
It’s being received
And if you can see that
Then healing has begun

a prayer about something I forgot

Sometimes in the midst of being busy
Or at least preoccupied
With all the concerns of the pandemic
Not to mention daily life
I forget a few basic facts
Such as
I’m not dead

I haven’t been dead my entire life
Although there have been several years
That it’d be very difficult to convince me of this
Or at least
That life is a gift worth celebrating

So I’d like to take a break
And thank Whoever is responsible
For me not being dead
Thank you for the blessing of each day
Thank you for even the days I’m in no mood to enjoy them
Thank you for the blessing of every moment

And my prayer at this moment
Is simply this
Please remind me when I forget
That life is a gift
And that
I’m not dead
As long as I shall live

a prayer in honor of the angels

(Note:   If part of a performance, this poem should be the last one.  Each performer appears one at a time, in front of a candle, until the performers fill the space.  As each one appears, each one says:)

With this candle, I remember…
(the name of someone who has died since the pandemic began)
We light these candles in honor of the holy ones who preceded us

(The following lines should be divided among all the performers:)

The ones who paved the paths
The ones who led the way
The ones who shed their light so our journeys could be brighter

The ones we know
And also the ones we don’t know
The strangers who contributed to our planet
And to our lives

With our candles and our silence we honor you
We give you our respect and gratitude
We thank you for showing us that there is light
We are the result of the work of many angels

(A long moment of silence, and then:)

And let us say, Amen

***

Top