Blessings from the Pandemic

a poetry collection
by Rich Orloff

In the spring of 2020, as I absorbed the shock of the pandemic, I wrote a poem.  I never expected to write a second, but I did.  Getting positive responses, I continued to write poems, resulting in BLESSINGS FROM THE PANDEMIC, a mosaic of 60 poetic reflections in response to the pandemic:  the big, the small, the humorous, the challenging, and even the inspiring.

I created a theater piece from these poems, which was performed (usually on-line) by theaters around the country, plus at schools, churches, synagogues, and libraries.  Performance rights are represented by TRW Plays, a division of Theatrical Rights Worldwide.

Some of my favorite poems from the collection are below.  You can order the full collection from TRW Plays.

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 how I’m doing

This morning, as I look out my window,
I decide to take a break from my anxieties to remind myself:
Hey, I’m doing a damn good job taking care of myself

When I get scared
I reach out to friends
Instead of pretending I’m okay

When I feel okay
I reach out to friends
To see if they’re doing okay

I allow myself escape
Into work, into comfort TV,
Because living in the here and now
Is sometimes too much to bear

Being not up to the challenge
Is an inevitable chapter
In rising to the challenge

I rant
I sigh
And I admit that part of me likes slowing down
And likes that the world is slowing down
As if we’re breaking some stupid agreements we’ve made
Of how life should be

I take walks every day
Taking joy in the blessings of air and quiet
Practicing social distancing
Swerving and avoiding
Not only to save my life
But to save the lives of others

And my deepest prayer at this moment
Isn’t that I hope to live
But that I hope when this crisis is over
I’ll remember its lessons
And that I’ll always carry a little of this time with me

a prayer for the senses

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

Let me touch you with the rays of the sun
The sound of chirping birds
The smell of cinnamon
The taste of dark chocolate
The sight of spring flowers

Let me tease you with the wind
Tickle you with a joke
Scratch you with the news
Cuddle you with my words
And nurse you with my love

I cannot promise you an end
To loneliness and isolation
I cannot promise you a substitute
For the pleasure of skin on skin

But every day I will find ways
To softly caress your soul
And all you have to do
Is let me in

a prayer about making room

Today I will make room for everything
My fear
My courage
My desire to avoid
My desire to connect

Checking Facebook
Avoiding Facebook
My love of the moment
My anxiety about the future

My hope
My doubt
My faith
My despair

I look at all these parts of me and say:
Bless you all
I don’t want to be any less than all of me

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 screens
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 prayer about Covid fatigue

A friend tells me
She has Covid fatigue
I’ve had Covid fatigue so long, I reply
That I have Covid fatigue fatigue

I respond to this condition
By spending so much energy
Trying to feel okay
That sometimes it feels like
Holding it together is a curse

Perhaps it’s not Covid fatigue I’m feeling
But okayness fatigue
Ignoring the place inside
That needs to be cradled with tenderness
And yearns for a soft caress on my weary soul

I pray for the courage
To take a vacation from okayness
And to trust that feeling not okay is
Just a place along the way
And not the destination

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

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

A friend chatted with me on the phone today
In the distance we heard a chainsaw
My friend told me a large tree had fallen
During a recent storm
And workers were sawing it into pieces
To be taken away

My friend started to cry
Embarrassed that he was crying
Over the loss of a tree
As if there’s a line to draw somewhere
About what it’s okay to grieve

If you want
You can interpret my friend’s tears
As about something larger than a tree
Given how fragile everything feels right now

But I’d rather think it’s about the tree
Because that’s all I need to know
To feel love for a grieving friend
And that’s all my friend needed to know
To feel grief for a loving tree

a prayer for allowing grief

Lately more and more
As I take breaks from my daily activities
I hear the instruction

If every day is a blessing
Every day also includes loss
So much of what I’ve grown to cherish about life
Is at least for the moment

I miss seeing the smiles hidden behind masks
I miss those moments during meals with friends
When a friend asks,
“Hey, this is yummy, would you like a bite?”

I miss those moments in the supermarket line
Where I start chatting with the person next to me
Never about anything significant
But about everything that’s deliciously small

Some losses I notice
Some losses I’ll never know about
Those are the losses I grieve the most

I hear
Sadness is not something to get over
But a place to visit as often as you need
Loss doesn’t deny our blessings
But places them in a beautiful frame

a prayer for afterwards

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

As I continue my walk
I looked at faces of other people of color
With each face I think
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 quickly
And the stress of now would soon 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 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 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 have convinced me they go through the day
As if all their troubles are solved
By their last commercial break

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 comes next
I’ll still have to face it with this brain

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 are probably 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 are far beyond normal
But who wish to explore with abnormal joy
This opportunity called life

a prayer on one of 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 bad days
We never need to go through this alone

a blessing from the list

In the throes of another day of unhappiness
I decide to look within

I decide to make a list of
Everything I do to myself
That perpetuates my own suffering

I get out a piece of paper
I pick up a pen
If necessary, I will spend all day
Making this list of self-sabotaging habits

I’m going to be honest with myself
I’m going to be relentless
This list will be my roadmap
Out of the misery I cause myself

I look at the blank sheet in front of me
Prepared to be ruthlessly thorough
And I write

Number one:


I put down my pen
And go out and enjoy the rest of the day
Thank you, list
You’ve taught me everything I needed to learn today

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 inspired by a leaf

On a recent autumnal day
I look at myself in the mirror
And a very calm voice reminds me
That I’m going to die someday

Nothing to be afraid of, the voice says
No way you can avoid it
What you do until then
Is up to you

The next day I walk in the park
And a yellow leaf floats off a tree
And lands at my feet

I look at the leaf
Which has probably had a full life
At least by leaf standards
And I think if that leaf had spent
All spring and summer
Worried about dying in the fall
It would have never enjoyed
Spring and summer

Sometimes I fear that if
I’m not afraid of death
God will call me on my bluff
It’s as if there’s a place inside me that believes
I need my fear of death to stay alive

I hope this leaf enjoyed every day of its existence
And I pray that I can follow its example
Until the day destiny releases me from
The tree of life

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


All poems copyright © 2021 Rich Orloff.