My husband and I, both retired, and having settled into COVID-19 quarantine early in March, 2020, continued to begin our mornings skimming the news from online and televised sources. We are ardent lovers of the natural world, and all of our lives we have grieved the Earth’s exploitation over its preservation and conservation. At our home on four acres outside of the state capital, we are surrounded by CAFO’s (factory farms) and the largest tar sands pipeline in the world. We are cognizant of the dangers such careless use of the land represents and have fought long and hard for greater wisdom and justice to guide our stewardship of resources that are limited, as we have fought for justice and kindness to prevail in our treatment of our fellow humans, and all creatures and ecosystems that share our planet.
On Friday, March 13th, some of the news featured stories and photographs of places on Earth that already had been visibly affected by a planet in quarantine. After just a few weeks, air quality was measurably improved and visibility clarified.
I’ve taught writing, worked as a copywriter and editor, and written creatively all my life. A few years ago, health issues required my full-time attention, and I suspended the blog I’d used as a forum for my photo essays and poetry, but I continued to write as an outlet for my own creativity and to share with friends. The invitations for healing our planet and psyches that this quarantine represented began to swirl in my subconscious, and the news that even a short absence of human activity had benefited the Earth made me reflect on the possibilities and power of the choices we could make.
To be clear, I didn’t think a temporary quarantine could reverse the effects of climate change, but I did and do believe in the power of choice we always have to change, to undertake the hard work of transformation, to use our creative gifts to think and do life differently and better. This is the ongoing work of healing and integration life offers us as individuals and as a global community, and I think we often forget that positive change is as possible as negative. It is easier, perhaps, to give in and give up, but now is the time, I believe, to work together on behalf of the planet and its inhabitants regardless of how challenging it seems.
And, so, over our lunch break that day, I sat down and wrote a short piece and posted it on Facebook. It allowed my hope to take shape and cohere, and it offered me peace. It began, “And the people stayed home…” and offered a vision of small ways we could tend our bodies, minds, and spirits during quarantine, suggesting we could allow our thinking regarding the planet and how we live, and move, and have our being upon it to be transformed. It was gentle, even playful, and it was hopeful. But once it was written, I let it go. I felt better and I hoped my friends would be comforted and inspired, too.
That night, a friend asked if she could repost what I’d written, and I answered, “Sure.” A few days later, another friend messaged me that Deepak Chopra had recited my piece, now called a “poem,” on a daily video he shared on various platforms. The poem began to appear across media, sometimes with my name attached and at other times ascribed to dead or fictional writers. Within a few days, I restarted my blog and posted the poem, calling it In the Time of Pandemic; however, many people continued to call it, And the People Stayed Home.
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In the weeks that followed, thousands of people viewed the post (almost 145,000, to date) and thousands more shared it on social media. Hundreds of comments were left on my post, and hundreds more came through social media. Many were from artists who wanted to integrate the words with their art and offer the world inspiration. I almost always agreed. Some requests came from multinational corporations to use in their advertising campaigns. I always refused. I lost a lot of sleep for a few months; I met and co-created with wonderful people; I was hurt by strangers; I was overwhelmed, humbled, devastated, and blessed. I wept to read how my little piece of writing had offered comfort across the globe. Moving personal stories will remain in my heart forever. Going viral during a virus has been an incredible, unpredictable, and life-changing adventure.
One of the more exciting invitations for a lifelong writer was to receive a request to publish the piece as an illustrated children’s book. I met virtually with the team from Tra Publishing shortly after receiving this invitation and was overjoyed by their kind and creative spirits within minutes. Our resulting co-creation, a beautifully-illustrated hardcover book, And the People Stayed Home, published November 10th, and we’re partnering with Vooks to also offer an animated version as well.
I cannot offer a template for how to write a piece that will “go viral.” But I will tell you that, in times of struggle and seeming darkness (which is to say, always), people hunger for and will respond to authentic hope, written from the heart. We need to be reminded that we are worthy of love and kindness, and capable of creating and offering love and kindness to the world through our gifts, however, they translate wonder and joy into creation and action. I am deeply moved that my writing struck such a profound chord with so many people around the world, but I am even more encouraged that so many love the Earth, desire her well-being, and will work for her healing.