On Quarantine Moods and Finding Grace “Here, within These Peeling Walls”

When Books and Music Console Us in Insolation

Sarah Woodard / 4.24.20

“Sick and Tired.” “i think too much.” “Waiting.” “Sad B****.” “Idontknow.” “Cold Beer Calling My Name.” “Keep on Dancing.” “All That’s Left Is Love.” “Look for the Good.”

These are a few of the song titles on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, a playlist that showcases recently released music on a weekly basis. In all honesty, I did not listen to most of these and am completely exploiting them for my purposes. But if these titles are any indication, we are experiencing all kinds of moods in quarantine these days. Globally, we are lonely, sick, isolated, waiting, and confused. Sometimes, we are reaching for the cold beer, and most days we have too much time alone with our thoughts. On our better days, we are dancing, celebrating love, and looking for the good.

(By the way, the one song on New Music Friday that I definitely know was made in quarantine is Pitbull’s “I Believe That We Will Win (World Anthem)”…and I must say I left both un-inspired and frightened by the intense chanting and drums. Once I heard the opening line—“You know what spreads faster than any virus?”—I paused and thought, “Don’t say it, don’t say it.” Well he didn’t say it. He said fear, which is much worse than love, and just as cheesy. Thanks anyway, Pitbull.)

I stand in good company when I say that art—whether it be painting, film, music, or writing—is a sustaining force, both connecting us to and reflecting on our human experience, and all the complex, petty, and profound emotions that define it. In these days of social distancing, I have found myself craving different kinds of art. On the one hand, I’ve been craving music/film/writing that is completely detached from my everyday reality and can temporarily transport me into another world. To that end I have Harry Potter (who doesn’t want to run through that brick wall into the magical world of Hogwarts sometimes?), Outlander (escaping reality via time travel) and Tame Impala (psychedelic music) to thank.

On the other hand, I crave music, films, and books that grapple with what I feel is my everyday experience right now, which is far more accurately reflected by the song titles at the beginning. Basically, I’m fluctuating between the need to escape where I am and the need to be understood where I am. I’m not saying this is healthy or not healthy, but I am daring to say that it’s normal and you likely relate. Time put out a playlist “for all the moods of social distancing” that is worth checking out. As we all know and have been saying, life is weird right now. Our emotional responses and “moods” are weird, too. This should not come as a surprise to us.

My stronger pull of late has been towards that art which resonates with my current feelings of loneliness, uncertainty, anxiety, and boredom. A few of my go-to songs are Tyler the Creator and Rex Orange County’s “Boredom,” Harry Styles’ “To Be So Lonely,” and R.E.M.’s, “Everybody Hurts,” and, when I need my hope to be restored, I turn to “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves. If you missed her performance on Global Citizen’s One World: Together at Home, do yourself a favor and give it a listen:

But of all that I’ve watched, read, and listened to, the piece that has most stood out to me comes from a passage in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s beloved Brothers Karamazov. It is one of my favorite scenes in all of literature, and one I feel I can perhaps relate to more than ever. Fittingly, the scene takes place in a jail cell. The oldest of the three Karamazov brothers, Dmitri, a turbulent, emotional, reckless young man, has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Though I am not locked up, I am—like much of the world—locked down. My “prison cell” is much lighter and lovelier than Dmitri’s, but I feel trapped most days nonetheless.

I have always been drawn to Dmitri because of his intense honesty and consistent struggle between sin and redemption. His spiritual turmoil reaches a fever pitch in his jail cell, and he has remarkable and deeply hopeful gospel revelations. Like many of us, he finds grace in the most unexpected place: “here, within these peeling walls.” Frenziedly exclaiming to his brother Alexei that “in these past two months, I’ve sensed a new man in me,” Dmitri tells of his remarkable spiritual resurrection right “here” in his jail cell:

“No, life is full, there is life underground too! You wouldn’t believe, Alexei, how I want to live now, what thirst to exist and be conscious has been born within me precisely within these peeling walls!…And it seems to me there’s so much strength in me now that I can overcome everything, all sufferings, only in order to say and tell myself every moment I am! In a thousand torments—I am; writhing under torture—but I am. Locked up in a tower, but still I exist, I see the sun, and if I don’t see the sun, still I know it is. And the whole of life is there—in knowing that the sun is.”

May you, too, find grace “here, within these peeling walls,” wherever you are locked up or locked down. May you find music and memes for every “mood of social distancing” and solace in knowing you are not alone. May you know that, even when the darkness seems impenetrable, still the sun—and the Son—is. May you never forget that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

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3 responses to “On Quarantine Moods and Finding Grace “Here, within These Peeling Walls””

  1. Sarah says:

    I love this so much, Sarah! I feel similarly on the oscillating moods. I go from HP to coronavirus news … quickly? Idk. And thank you for sharing this Brothers Karamazov quote, it’s really something. –fellow Sarah

  2. Kelly says:

    Thank you so much for this.

  3. CJ says:

    Casually: “A few of my go-to songs are…Harry Styles.” No surprise there! 🙂 I second the above comments — thanks for a great post, SW

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