Never Allow a Crisis to Go to Waste

Never Allow a Crisis to Go to Waste

Rahm Emanuel, advisor to President Barack Obama, said during the 2008 financial crisis: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” That wisdom has become a meme during the current coronavirus pandemic.

People may have many different opinions about what constitutes a crisis and for whom, and many have even more diverging opinions about how to solve it. [See 100 Year Old Man Raises $40 Million for Health Care.) There is a deep ancient wisdom about coping with crises from the Chinese pictograph character for crisis: two characters, one for danger, one for opportunity.

Many people are framing the current pandemic as an opportunity to re-vision ourselves as human beings, individually and in the collective of a global society, and to re-think local and national priorities about health care, tax and income inequity, environmental protection and climate change, free markets and restrictions of individual freedom, the continuing crisis of refugees forced to leave their homeland because of war, disease, or famine. All opportunities to think differently and do things differently going forward.

A key concept in the relatively new science of post-traumatic growth is that learning the lessons from any potentially traumatizing event, that upheavals our lives as we knew them before, can provide new strengths, new opportunities, new possibilities, and that recovering from a crisis or trauma is being able to bounce forward into a new life we could not have envisioned before.

The poem below, by Adrie Kusserow, is a pass through from trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, a take off of Mary Oliver’s well-known poem “Wild Geese.” (The original poem Wild Geese included below as well.) You may not agree with Adrie’s revisioning of the current crisis, I don’t agree with some of it, but it is an example of using this time of disruption and rapid change to think differently, to not let this crisis go to waste.

Mary Oliver for Corona Times (after Wild Geese)

You do not have to become totally zen,
You do not have to use this isolation
to make your marriage better,
your body slimmer,
your children more creative.

You do not have to “maximize its benefits”
by using this time to work even more,
write the bestselling Corona Diaries,
or preach the gospel of ZOOM.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
unlearn everything capitalism has taught you.
(That you are nothing if not productive,
that consumption equals happiness,
that the most important unit is the single self,
that you are at your best when you resemble an efficient machine.)

Tell me about your fictions,
the ones you’ve been sold,
the ones you sheepishly sell others,
and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile, the world as we know it is crumbling.
Meanwhile, the virus is moving over the hills,
suburbs, cities, farms, and trailer parks.

Meanwhile, the news barks at you,
harsh and addicting,
until the push of the remote leaves a dead quiet behind,
a loneliness that hums as the heart anchors.

Meanwhile, a new paradigm
is composing itself in our minds.
Could birth at any moment if we clear some space
from the same tired hegemonies.

Remember, you are allowed to be still as the white birch,
stunned by what you see,
uselessly shedding your coils of paper skins
because it gives you something to do.

Meanwhile, on top of everything else you are facing,
do not let capitalism co-opt this moment,
laying its whistles and train tracks across your weary heart.

Even if your life looks nothing like the Sabbath,
your stress boa-constricting your chest.,
know that your antsy kids, your terror,
your shifting moods, your need for a drink
have every right to be here,
and are no less sacred than a yoga class.

Whoever you are, no matter how broken,
the world still has a place for you,
calls to you over and over
announcing your place as legit, as forgiven,
even if you fail and fail and fail again.
Remind yourself over and over,
all the swells and storms that run through your long tired body
all have their place here, now in this world.

It is your birthright to be held deeply,
warmly in the family of things,
not one cell left in the cold.

Wild Geese
By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

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