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As Anna Bondoc from Los Angeles wrote to us: So many of us are raised to believe that hard work is what makes us valuable; many of our professions and even our identities as helpers are on hold. How does self-worth interact with just being when we feel we’re doing nothing? Krista reflects on the problem with the phrase “just being” — and how settling inside ourselves right now, and kindness towards ourselves, are gifts to the world we want to make beyond this crisis.

Living the Questions is an occasional On Being segment where Krista muses on questions from our listening community. Submit your own at ltq@onbeing.org.

In this unsettled moment, we’re returning to the shows we’re longing to hear again. Among them is this 2019 conversation with writer Ross Gay. The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible; to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the midst of difficult realities and as part of working for justice.

Poetry Unbound will be back with new episodes this fall. We’re so grateful to those who welcomed the podcast into their lives, and we’d love to hear more about your listening experience. What did you love? What can we improve? And what poetry, poets, or topics would you like to hear host Pádraig Ó Tuama talk about? Take the short survey at onbeing.org/pusurvey.

Emily Dickinson’s poem “1383” honors the friendships that endure across time, circumstance, and even misunderstanding. Akin to fire, the connections in these friendships may be strong enough to burn or hurt us, but Dickinson acknowledges that their light continues to draw us in regardless.

After listening, we invite you to reflect on this question: Think about a friendship that has remained steady for you across the years, even as both of you have changed. Why do you think your relationship has endured?

“When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers,” Rebecca Solnit writes. “And that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” In this moment of global crisis, we’re returning to the conversations we’re longing to hear again and finding useful right now. A singular writer and thinker, Solnit celebrates the unpredictable and incalculable events that so often redeem our lives, both solitary and public. She searches for the hidden, transformative histories inside and after events we chronicle as disasters in places like post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.

Raymond Antrobus’s poem “Miami Airport” bears witness to the disempowerment that comes when you’re not believed. The voice of the poet is absent, and all we hear is an interrogator seeking to disrupt and displace. This space of suspicion creates anxiety, transporting us to the places and times when someone has questioned the truth of our story.

A question to reflect on after you listen: When have you felt disempowered by questions about yourself? Did you find your voice again? How?

Patrick Kavanagh’s poem “The One” is about seeing beauty in the ordinary places of home. One of Ireland’s most famous poets, Kavanagh grew up in rural County Monaghan and moved to Dublin as a young man. This poem revisits the boglands of his home, which he once hated but came to love.

A question to reflect on after you listen: Think about where you’re from. How has your understanding of it changed over time?

Physicist Carlo Rovelli says humans don’t understand the world as made by things, “we understand the world made by kisses, or things like kisses — happenings.” This everyday truth is as scientific as it is philosophical and political, and it unfolds with unexpected nuance in his science. Rovelli is one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory and author of the tiny, bestselling book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and The Order of Time. Seeing the world through his eyes, we understand that there is no such thing as “here” or “now.” Instead, he says, our senses convey a picture of reality that narrows our understanding of its fullness.

Ali Cobby Eckermann’s poem “Kulila” insists on remembering as a moral act. Through the poem, the Aboriginal poet mourns the loss of Indigenous cultures in Australia and how they have been damaged and changed by colonization. Cobby Eckermann calls her readers to a place of listening and lament as a way to keep alive the memory of who we are and who we could’ve been.

A question to reflect on after you listen: What in your culture or community needs to be lamented, honored, and told?

Kei Miller’s poem “Book of Genesis” asks us to imagine a God who makes things spring into life specifically for us. Just as the poet of Genesis proclaims, “Let there be,” Miller wonders what freedom and flourishing we’d find in imagining a “Let” pronounced not for the person others say we should be, but for the person we are.

A question to reflect on after you listen: How can you begin to let yourself flourish today, just as you are?

Sociologist Nicholas Christakis says we come to social goodness as naturally as we come to our bloodier inclinations. Research out of his Human Nature Lab at Yale shows that capacities like friendship, love, teaching, and cooperation exert a tremendous and practical force on us — and yet we don’t think of those behaviors as grit for what’s helped humans evolve as a species. Christakis’ science — and the passion with which he shares and lives what he learns — put goodness in refreshing evolutionary perspective.

Lemn Sissay’s poem “Some Things I Like” celebrates what we might consider discardable — like cold tea, ash trays, and even people. Raising a joyous toast to the forgotten and the forgettable, Sissay recognizes the power we give to what we pay attention to and invites us to look anew at all that has been undervalued.

A question to reflect on after you listen: What is something you like that others may not value in the same way?

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — or SETI — goes beyond hunting for E.T. and habitable planets. Scientists in the field are using telescopes and satellites looking for signs of outright civilizational intelligence. One of the founding pioneers in this search is astronomer Jill Tarter. She is a cofounder of the SETI Institute and was an inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, based on the novel by Carl Sagan. To speak with Tarter is to begin to grasp the creative majesty of SETI and what’s relevant now in the ancient question: “Are we alone in the universe?”

Ross Gay’s poem “Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt” uses an everyday task to examine what is made and unmade in small moments. He imagines his fingers opening and closing things, like buttons, the eyes of a dead person, relationships. In doing so, the poem asks us to simply pay attention, today, to what we’re doing with our hands — to understand them as intimate pathways into the stories of our bodies and the stories of our lives.

A question to reflect on after you listen: What have you done with your hands today? What are you opening? What are you closing?

Allison Funk’s poem “The Prodigal’s Mother Speaks to God” tells the age-old story of The Prodigal Son through a new voice: the unnamed woman of the parable. This woman is truthful, wise, and loving. She knows the dedications and limitations of love. She seeks to see clearly, even though it’s hard to see clearly.

A question to reflect on after you listen: When has love been complicated for you?

The wise and beloved Vatican astronomer Father George Coyne died last week. Like most of the Vatican astronomers across history, he was also a Jesuit. More than 30 objects on the moon are named after the Jesuits who mapped it and ten Jesuits in history have had asteroids named after them. Father Coyne was one of the few with this distinction, alongside his friend and fellow Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno. In a conversation filled with laughter, we experience the spacious way the two of them approached life, faith, and the universe.

Jane Mead’s “Substance Abuse Trial” is set in a courtroom where a daughter hears her father’s name mispronounced at his trial. As she watches this, she wishes that the court could see the fullness of her father and his story — to bear witness to him as a human being, defined by much more than his addiction.

A question to reflect on after you listen: When was a time when you were judged based on a mistake you made, rather than the fullness of who you are?