‘If we pull together as a community, we can overcome anything’

In images and words, Brescia’s ‘The Year the World Stood Still’ captures Rhode Islanders’ pain, resilience during pandemic

By ALEX MALM
Posted 9/15/21

Art has long been a major part of Susan Brescia’s life, on both personal and professional levels.

A self-taught musician since her youth, she plays guitar, ukulele, piano, mandolin and …

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‘If we pull together as a community, we can overcome anything’

In images and words, Brescia’s ‘The Year the World Stood Still’ captures Rhode Islanders’ pain, resilience during pandemic

Posted

Art has long been a major part of Susan Brescia’s life, on both personal and professional levels.

A self-taught musician since her youth, she plays guitar, ukulele, piano, mandolin and djembe. In college, she studied commercial art and music. Over the years, she’s performed on stage in musicals and cabarets.

For 25 years, she held a job as a creative director. Then, in March 2020, she was one of many people across the state and country who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I had no idea that they didn’t plan on hiring me back,” she said.

Brescia was only four years away from retiring from the company, which made it even more devastating for her. Since being unemployed, she has tried to find work in her field.

After a while, she began to draw. And then, one day, she thought to herself, why not just publish a book to memorialize the events that happened during the pandemic and to feature several Rhode Islanders?

That’s exactly what she did when she published a 100-page hardcover book, titled “The Year the World Stood Still,” this summer.

Brescia wanted to highlight the stories of different Rhode Islanders during the pandemic through words and illustrations.

Brescia explained she learned some stories from people she knew and picked others up from Facebook. From there, she would contact the people to see if they were interested in being included in her book.

“I really want this book to be inspirational, and the message is that through the most difficult times, including a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, that if we pull together as a community, we can overcome anything,” she said.

One of the people illustrated in the book is Rhode Island State Police Capt. Kenneth Jones, who was one of those who helped to hand out food to those in need during the pandemic.

“For months now, in cities and towns stretching across America, cars lined up for miles, as far as the eyes could see, waiting their turn to pick up a box of canned goods, produce, bread, pasta, and cereal. Similar to breadlines in the 1930’s, the lines were endless,” Brescia writes.

“Due to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, millions of people still found themselves out of work. Community food banks around the nation continued to strain under the pressure and couldn’t keep up with the demand. People who never before relied on assistance, or were food bank donors themselves pre-pandemic, now found themselves on the receiving end.”

While she wanted to have stories of Rhode Islanders in the book, she thinks that they represented what was happening across the country.

“They are the faces of everybody. Even though there are many Rhode Islanders in there they are really representing the faces of us all,” Brescia said.

Former Gov. Gina Raimondo is pictured in the book but she represents what all governors have been dealing with during the pandemic, says Brescia. In the drawing, Raimondo – now secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department – has an expression that conveys both the calm she sought to project during the crisis and the magnitude of the circumstances Rhode Island was facing.

Other illustrations capture the human toll of the pandemic, and the pain felt by those who lost someone close to them but couldn’t properly say goodbye. In one, “Prayers for Healing,” an emotional woman bows her head and joins her hands as she prays. In another, “Whispers of Comfort,” a nurse comforts a patient on a ventilator. One drawing, “Holding Each Other Up,” features a doctor, respiratory therapist and nurse in an emotional embrace after a lengthy, draining shift.

“For those who lost their lives, many took their last breath alone. They said goodbye to their families, with only a nurse by their side, via phone or digital device … compounding the unbearable level of sorrow,” the book reads.

In addition to telling stories about what people dealt with during the pandemic, Bresica includes the COVID-19 statistics for each month in Rhode Island, the country and around the world. Once it became available, she also began to include the vaccine data.

While losing her job at the height of the pandemic was what led Bresica to write the book, it wasn’t the only time that she turned to art during a dark time in her life as a way of healing.

When she was in her late 20s she was diagnosed with a rare smooth muscle cancer called Leiomyosarcoma. She decided to write songs to help cope with the difficult time in her life.

“It’s a way of me expressing myself,” she said.

Brescia explained that she thinks being able to use art in any form as a way of healing is important. Eventually she hopes to do a lecture series on using creativity to get through adversity or dealing with trauma.

“It’s an outlet, it’s an expression, it’s something that I think is really important,” she said.

Bresica said people don’t need to be professional artists to use art as a way of healing.

“It’s the process itself that’s healing. It’s not the end result, it’s always the process,” she said.

Brescia began writing the book in May of 2020. It hit the printers this past July. Throughout the process she did everything from writing the stories, and drawing the illustrations, finding a printing company and putting up part of her life savings to help fund it.

She plans to have an official launch and book signing on Oct. 9 at the Association of Rhode Island Authors Meet and Greet, which will take place at the Scituate Art Festival. It will be located in the parking lot behind the North Scituate Library.

In closing, Brescia writes,  “Though COVID-19 has not been vanquished, vaccination efforts continue to lead us closer towards normality. Restrictions in mask wearing and social distancing are gradually being lifted. I suspect the world will need to learn to live with COVID-19 and its variants and certainly, perhaps not in my lifetime, this won’t be the last global pandemic.  And so, I hope this book serves as a reminder of who we are, the moral obligation we share with one another, the fortitude of the human spirit, and the sense of hope that will always shine through the darkest of times. I encourage you to Draw On, pull from within and express yourself through whatever creative methods give you a sense of freedom and joy. Thank you for allowing me into your lives. “

Copies of the book, selling for $34.99, are available at the offices of Beacon Communications, 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick and at Twice Told Tales in Pawtuxet.

Additional information is available at suebrescia.com

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