The pandemic rages across every level of world lives. Even isolated villages and towns now feel its presence. In the United States we are a few days from electing another cycle of government leaders, including a president, while European leaders try to make hard decisions to combat the virus. We are bombarded by noise that is masked as news worthy information. The editorial in our local paper today asked: “Are you tired of…?” and then went on to list many of the noises we have be subjected to during the pandemic and its consequences.
Yes, we are tired, but we have quite a distance to travel. In a marathon, racers train to be able to maintain pace and form during the last 6.2 miles, the crucial last miles which begin at mile 20. Metaphorically that is where we are: Mile 20 of a marathon and where our preparation and resolve will now be tested.
As a teacher of literature, I always chose to expose students to stories and poems and novels and plays that taught a lesson. A brief poem such as Earl carries a lesson that, once learned, will help in difficult times that we all will encounter. Like the well-trained marathoner, a well-read person will have an arsenal to call upon during tough times as now. Having digested such great literature as The Odyssey, a person can use lessons gleaned from Homer’s words to help him or her to carry on; to “Get on with it,” as the English haberdasher told me one summer in his store on Oxford’s Turl Street. The list of such literature is long, but sadly forgotten it seems to me. But that is another matter for another essay.
Like all people, I am tired of the turmoil and the uncertainty of this pandemic and our dithering leaders. However, a retired man of 74 living with his wife, five cats, and two hounds on Lake Norman, I have had to cope with only some inconvenience, but nothing like that of a parent with school-aged children and a job or, worse, not a job. These people are facing a difficult circumstance which I am happy not to have to navigate. But I still was reminded of the poem Ithaca by C.P. Cavafy this week because of the death of Sean Connery and his connection with the poem, and the lesson it carries for us during the pandemic.
Sir Sean said years ago that his big break came when he was five years old, but it took him seventy years to realize that. The break he told of was that he learned to read at age five, and reading then changed his life, opened doors, gave him insight, and more. He said, “It’s the books, the reading, that can change one’s life.” 007! Bond! James Bond! He was a reader. He read newspapers, books, magazines. He devoured it all, changing his life.
I knew none of this until my wife, after reading an obituary of Sir Sean, shared some of it with me, especially the above quotation. He was a man after my heart, but I was aware of one instance of his reading and it is a fine example of literature, of reading and how that changes lives. And it is right there on the You Tube channel. Type in “Sean Connery and Ithaca” then listen to him reading the words of Cavafy. Hear the music of Cavafy’s phrases and allow their meaning to become part of your soul. See the visuals and hear the canned music, but most of all allow Cavafy, through Connery’s resounding Scottish accent, assure you that the trials we face during the pandemic are just another part of a journey we face, and they, and it, too shall pass. Allow Cavafy’s lesson to give you comfort that you, like Odysseus and us all, can gain Ithaca, our safe harbor, our restful home.