Chorus of consistency

May 18, 2020 · Print This Article

Many things have changed in the past couple of months. Less traffic, slower download speeds, queuing at shops, and out of control hair! But there’s one thing I’ve noticed that has stayed consistent: the singing of birds. And I’m sure they’ve turned the volume up! Such has been their impact national news – presumably to spice up their monosyllabic feed of misery – has recorded our feathery friend’s symphony of sound in Shrewsbury.

Maybe with less traffic noise, human chatter, and school playgrounds muted, birds have reclaimed the airwaves. And I’m not complaining. There’s something tranquil, even mesmerising, about the playful tune of birds such as the nightingale, robin, or song thrush to name a few. Even as I write this blog, I can hear the twitter of birds outside my window and the sound takes me back into my school classroom years ago.

A classroom that still used chalk, and where we were studying the poetry of the romantic poet, John Keats, and specifically his Ode to a Nightingale. Keats’ mastery of language and metaphor meant this poem expressed the joy – nay, bliss – of this most vocal of birds. I’ve just read it again and there’s something pertinent about its message for us today.

The poem focuses on a man standing in a forest listening to the beautiful song of the nightingale. This provokes a deep mediation where he longs to forget “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” of human suffering and our eventual death (something we are all too aware of in this pandemic). But the nightingale seems immortal because of its consistently sung song across the ages, “Perhaps the self-same song that found a path through the sad heart of Ruth”. Ruth? Who’s she?

This enigmatic reference to a Ruth is thrown into the poem but the irony need not be lost on us when we find her story, written in the Bible, is one that resembles the kind of consistency of the nightingale’s chorus. Ruth, too, is a story of consistency.

A woman named Naomi had been widowed whilst living in a foreign land. Ruth had married one of her sons who also died making her a widow too. When Naomi decided to return to her homeland, Ruth in a remarkable act of loyalty, went with her vulnerable mother-in-law even though Ruth would now be the one living in a foreign land. “Where you will go, I will go” is Ruth’s chorus of consistency to Naomi (you can read or listen to the story here).

This display of loyalty – albeit extreme – seems to be missing in our very transient, easy-come-easy-go world. But I wonder whether in, and after, this crisis we need to find our own chorus of consistency and loyalty with the vulnerable we know.

After COVID-19 the grieving will not be gone. And not all grieving is obvious. There will be those who have lost someone to the virus. But not all loss is visible. Others will have lost jobs, some would’ve lost connection with friends, and, as I read this morning, some even have lost counselling sessions for their mental illness. I wonder whether these people will need a friend like Ruth? Someone who will say to them, ‘I’m here for you’.

Maybe we can be that loyal friend, that chorus of consistency, in the life of another who has lost something.

Richard Fowler

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

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