Pandemic Mutations

Pandemic Mutations
May 7, 2020 – David R. Weiss

These days are long and loud for me. I sit by busy intersections and listen to the voices.

Some of those intersections are online news stories, others are video clips or the TV news or a print piece on the pandemic. More than a few are voices inside me, picking sides, poking holes, trying to see around the next bend. When I say the days are long and loud, I mean I am barely able to speak some days. Margaret, working fulltime from home now, is within earshot—all day long. And, today I barely had energy even to chat.

I have a hard enough time tracking the shouting in my head. But it’s more than just shouting. Because I’m also frantically … deliberately listening, looking for patterns. I may not write all that much poetry, but as an essayist and theologian, I sit still at those multiple intersections, waiting like a poet to notice unexpected connections. It’s how my mind works.

But between the intensity of thoughts and feelings, logic and intuitions, right now it’s nearly killing me. This is not a muted cry for help—I’m fine, (I think). But it is also not hyperbole. I see so many things moving together like tumblers that I find myself almost paralyzed with fear and awe, perched at the edge of insight for hours at a time. A desire to write, and too often an inability to know where to start. It’s all so connected. I feel like the scene in A Beautiful Mind where you see the walls in John Nash’s office—with pushpins and strings madly crisscrossing every which way. Long. Loud.

Daytime taunts me. There is already too much going on in my own upstairs; every other noise or activity just spins me in circles. I stumble from sunlight into darkness. Usually by midnight a bit of calm settles in, and from then until 2 or 3 or 4 a.m., I actually manage. Manage what? Sometimes I manage to write. Other times to really think—to let the voices speak in turn rather than continue their incessant cacophony. Sometimes I merely manage to sink into a book. But those dark hours sustain me as little does. Without them, I would have no other option except to shut down. This has been occasionally true for the past few years, but for the past two months it’s been a lifeline—its depth in my life, a mutation.

Reading fiction helps. A good story settles my mind, and for a while the voices rest. If I’m lucky, its balm lingers afterward and helps ground me when I take up my own thoughts. But there are days like today, when, despite a really good story, all I manage is one chapter, a deep sigh, then the next, and a sigh, then the next. Because the words I feel rising in me are still too chaotic, too unwelcome (in my throat, at my fingertips, in your ears or eyes). Too often these days I do not want to write the things I must.

Right now I’m reading Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory. I’m a third of the way in, and it’s been a mesmerizing salve. The prose is simply gorgeous; the story’s arc thus far haunting. A short while ago I read how the roots of two Douglas firs, when they meet beneath the ground, actually fuse together, joining the trees. Of course, it’s rarely just two trees, but it makes me think of Margaret. In three days it will be exactly twenty years since I penned a poem in which I wrote this line of us: “As deep, deep within the ground our very roots find each other in the moist darkness and we braid ourselves together in a single shining cord of ecstasy.” We did. We have. And we do.

Tonight when I crawl in bed between 3 and 4 a.m., I will reach my leg to the right, and my weary roots will find hers, and between us—waking, sleeping—we will again briefly fuse together by touch this shared life we’ve woven across our psyches, our souls, our hearts. She, by day, advocates for those unsheltered in this pandemic. Battling bureaucracy, fostering teamwork, and multi-tasking on the multitude of mundane things that must be done. Meanwhile—there is no other way to say this—I play at alchemy with reckless intensity. Sitting at those intersections, waiting as theologian and writer, prophet and poet, for sparks to fly. Praying both that I don’t get burned and that I catch entirely aflame. We are as we’ve always been. Just moreso. Much. Moreso.

This rhythm and the particular foci of our lives will no doubt shift on the far side of this pandemic. But not back to whatever it used to be. We now live—and love—on the far side of mutation.

*     *     *


David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at Read more at where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at

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