When Linda and I went to Ballard Market two days ago the first thing she put into our cart, with a knowing smile, was a bundle of tulips. Since we were only supposed to be doing “essential shopping,” I wondered, are tulips essential?
In Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel, Stations Eleven, the world has been devastated by a flu epidemic that begins in the Republic of Georgia. It explodes “like a neutron bomb” and extinguishes 99 percent of the world’s population. Mandel’s novel is the story of life after this apocalypse.
It is, of course, grim. But one of the features of Mandel’s story is a group of traveling Shakespearean actors, The Traveling Symphony. Amid the flattened and battered post-apocalyptic landscape, The Traveling Symphony discover that people long, not just for food and shelter, but “for what was best about the world” — and that means scenes from King Lear.
It seems a fanciful and unlikely notion, but The Traveling Symphony crosses the landscape offering what they have to offer, Shakespeare. Their vans bear a slogan — “Because survival is insufficient.” The world is desolate, but what “made it bearable were the friendships, of course, the camaraderie and the music and the Shakespeare, the moments of transcendent beauty and joy.”
Since the 2016 election our routine has been to watch the PBS Newshour together most nights. I wait on Judy Woodruff as a first grader waits on the school principal’s daily greeting, as a supplicant on the priest’s benediction. Perhaps that’s your ritual as well?
If it is, then you too saw the segment at the end of the show this evening with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He has created something called #Songs of Comfort. “A virus,” said Yo-Yo, “knows no borders. But neither does music.” The Newshour concluded with Ma playing a heart-wrenching, soul-stirring piece by Dvorak, “Going Home.” Food for the soul.
We need face masks and testing kits. We need food and shelter. And we also need tulips. And Shakespeare and Dvorak and what is “best about our world.” We need beauty and joy. Find some. Share some. What beauty and joy, we, God’s creatures have created. Here lies food for the soul in an anxious time.
Bless you all, and may God’s face shine upon you and may God be gracious unto you.