I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more …
This is the fifth section or “canto” from an astonishing poem titled In Memoriam A.H.H. published by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1850. It is a long requiem for his best friend from Cambridge who died suddenly at the age of 22, the worst of a series of traumas that Tennyson endured in the early stages of his life. He used the writing of the poem as a comforting distraction and an outlet for his grieving. As he describes in this canto, he struggles to find the words that do justice to his darkest moments. In spite of his exceptional talent, Tennyson needed almost 17 years to complete the poem. By the time of its publication, Tennyson’s gift for words and his ability to capture the sentiments of the Industrial Age had made him a rock star during Queen Victoria’s reign. He was the Poet Laureate of England during most of his adult life, back when being a poet was a celebrated and noble profession.
I don’t know how I ended up at Tennyson, this “Himalaya of the mind”, other than I needed some help to organize and understand my own emotions here at the crossroads of the COVID-19 era. I find the words and rhythm of the poem to be soothing. I am inspired by Tennyson’s ideas and the way he reconciles the seemingly incompatible aspects of his mourning. He acknowledges that he can’t completely escape the shadow of his gloomiest experiences but, as the poem progresses, he finds a way balance his sadness with a desire to move on. Doing so, he taps a source of hope and perseverance. I am reassured by his long struggle to properly articulate his feelings. We are emerging from the worst the pandemic had to offer and I believe we are all going to need time and a little help to unlock and release just what it is we are feeling as we step back out in the world.
I for one feel like I have accumulated some baggage. I cannot distinguish all the shapes and sizes just yet but there is a perceptible malaise. It is driven principally by the sadness I feel about what we all have endured, what we have missed. The despair of lives lost. The irreparable physical suffering. The absence and isolation. The rot of uncertainty. The ebbing of opportunity and enterprise. The sacrifice and the foregone. I will carry it forward for a long while. Some of it, the somber remembrances and careful reflection of lessons learned, forever.
“What is it makes me beat so low?” inquires Tennyson’s heart within the poem. I have asked myself a similar version of this question, albeit more ineloquently and profanely, repeatedly during this unsettling time. I have come to realize I am more instinctively and viscerally connected to the wellbeing of B&M and all our people than I ever imagined. Our collective experiences create feelings for me that are strong and sticky. Love, joy, pride, satisfaction, sorrow, and grief all intricately intertwined. So even though I have faced a fraction of the personal hardship suffered by many others, I feel this pandemic has exacted a heavy, invisible toll on me and I realize that I am diminished. It’s not unhappiness. It is an accumulated loss of emotional vigor, a weariness, which I cannot just shake off or wish away. There have just been too many withdrawals during this long campaign. I see it in others. It will take time to heal and feel better but it will happen eventually. Not just for me but hopefully for everyone. It will come from the rediscovery of what we were all missing the most, the kinship and camaraderie of others, and the recognition of just how much we missed it.
We have managed within our smaller circles and our virtual worlds. We made it work. We made the best of it. But it still seems so mechanical and deliberate. So measured and premeditated. So limited. COVID-19 has extracted the bulk of spontaneity from our lives and sucked a lot of joy out in the process. I look forward to reclaiming it. By experiencing actual people again, we will feel the restorative power of human interaction. Those precious deposits of warmth, energy and friendship will bolster us as individuals, as a company and as a community. There are going to be a lot of hugs in our collective future. Be forewarned, I will be coming in hot.
We are not at the end of the pandemic but I believe the worst is over. The third wave of the spring has abated. Vaccines are clearly blunting the transmission of the virus. The United States led the charge and, today, 63.4% of people 12 years old and above have a first dose and 54.3% are fully immunized. Canada’s rollout started slowly but it is now at full steam, with 77.3% of same age cohort of citizens partially dosed and 33.5% fully. Vaccines are punching our ticket out of this mess. The math is simple. The more individuals with protection, the more we are all protected. The unvaccinated are an open door for the current variants of SARS-CoV-2 and future mutations. So please set aside all the noise and nonsense, embrace the science, and get the shot. It is such a small thing after all the shit we’ve been through and you will feel so invigorated.
I got my second dose on June 15. I highlighted “VAX-2” as recurring event in my calendar. Something to be celebrated like some personal armistice in the future. I got a Pfizer on top of an Astra-Zeneca. I puzzled about the choice. Once again, I went with the first available because every moment of protection is a gift. Yesterday, I reached two weeks after my second dose. The magic moment when my body’s immunity machine reaches its highest gear. I am feel liberated and ready to reconnect to the world.
I am confident about where we are now as a company. We are stronger in almost every discernible way than before the pandemic began. Financial health. Operational performance. Depth of people. Backlog. Engagement and morale. Current business opportunities and future prospects. I am grateful for our remarkable good fortune, crafted with care, constitution and great industry by thousands of B&Mers. Beyond the business metrics and the scorecards, there is damage. Like my own, it is a psychic wound, obscured from view and difficult to quantify and describe. I see it as a rustiness to be repaired with time and mindful discovery. I am confident that as restrictions recede we can address this corrosion by gathering, talking, acknowledging and appreciating. To allow these confusing feelings to spill out and to draw on the energy and compassion of others, revitalizing ourselves and reenergizing our work communities in the process.
I will always marvel at things we do. What we build. The things we can fix. The systems that we can configure and bring to life. The sequencing, the schedule, the who-does-what-when of it all. I am proud of our mad skills, our capability, and our technical prowess. But it is who we are that fills me with the greatest pride. Our character, our professionalism and our compassion. For all that the pandemic crisis has subtracted, it has amplified our most redeeming qualities too. The way we came together in the face of a universal hardship over the past fifteen months has been simply remarkable. It is certainly one of our organization’s finest moments in a century of memorable achievements. The unity, civility, understanding, and kindness so ardently and impeccably demonstrated by B&Mers through this difficult period has set a new and better standard for how we will live and work. I could not be prouder or more thankful.
I promise to strike a more celebratory tone in future updates. We have an important birthday to consider after all. For now, I will leave you with more optimistic and joyful nugget of Tennyson as we set forth into summer and towards a brighter horizon:
Here about the beach I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;
When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:
When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.
With love and respect,