18 pages 36 minutes read

Kitty O’Meara

And the People Stayed Home

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Kitty O’Meara—a former middle-school teacher and hospital/hospice chaplain—posted “And the People Stayed Home” on her Facebook page on March 13, 2020, just as the seriousness and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic were becoming apparent. Initially, she intended it as words of comfort to her friends and family in the face of growing anxiety about the spread of the virus. When she published the poem on her blog, The Daily Round, three days later, O’Meara titled it “In the Time of Pandemic”; however, the poem widely remains known as “And the People Stayed Home,” which is its first sentence.

The poem offers an optimistic vision of the pandemic’s potential to change human behavior in a way that would heal human lives and the planet itself. Its hopeful message resonated with people throughout the United States and abroad. In the weeks after its first appearance, the poem became an internet sensation. It was reposted and recorded online by numerous people, including celebrities such as Deepak Chopra. It was praised in Oprah Magazine and sung by the opera star Renée Fleming (see Further Resources). It has also been translated into dozens of languages.

O’Meara has expressed delight that her words inspired the creativity of numerous people, many of whom shared their artwork with her. She considers co-creative process a form of mutual support and healing. In late 2020, O’Meara published a picture book for children titled And the People Stayed Home, in which the text of the poem is accompanied with illustrations by Stefano di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda. Tra Publishing, who produced the book, plans to create a read-along, animated version of it to be available for streaming.

The sudden and widespread popularity of O’Meara’s poem has led to misuse and misinformation, as well. Since O’Meara was not a well-known poem before writing “And the People Stayed Home,” some have erroneously attributed the poem to the 19th-century writer Kathleen O’Mara. An Italian journalist unjustly accused O’Meara of plagiarizing a poem of hers, which expresses similar sentiments but in a substantially different manner. Several websites feature incorrectly transcribed or deliberately modified versions of the poem. There have been unauthorized efforts to commercialize the poem. On her blog, an explicit copyright statement now follows the text of the poem. She discourages any requests to use the poem for commercial gain, which she considers inconsistent with the poem’s theme: “I wrote it to inspire the creative artist and giver in all of us, not to prop up a corporate structure more intent on exploiting gift than enlarging it” (O’Meara, Kitty. “In the Time of Pandemic.” 2020. The Daily Round).

An internet search yields multiple websites with the text of the poem, but some of them are inaccurate. The most authoritative version of the poem is the one available on O’Meara’s blog (see Poem Text), even though that webpage is entitled “In the Time of Pandemic” rather than “And the People Stayed Home.” The wording on the blog is identical with the wording in the children’s book version and with the author’s recorded reading of the poem (see Listen to Poem). The poem is also included—entitled “And the People Stayed Home”—in a collection called Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic (edited by Alice Quinn; published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).

Poet Biography

Kitty (Catherine) O’Meara lives in Wisconsin, where she has spent most of her life. She has undergraduate degrees in Theater and English from Marquette University and advanced degrees in Education and Servant Leadership. She worked in advertising and taught middle school writing and literature before she took care of her dying mother, which inspired her to complete a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program and become a hospital and hospice chaplain dedicated to providing nursing home, palliative, and end-of-life care. She has also completed a program in Spiritual Directions and worked as a spiritual director.

By her own account, O’Meara has been writing both poetry and prose since the age of six. She started her blog, The Daily Round, in 2011 to share her literary pieces and photography. The blog was dormant for a while until the incipient COVID-19 pandemic prompted her to restart it as her way of responding to the crisis. She has said that “the Spirit” inspired her to write “And the People Stayed Home,” in one sitting, and post it on Facebook as a way to offer comfort to her friends. A friend reposted the poem, and soon it went viral. Within a week, O’Meara was receiving numerous reactions to it, mostly positive and thankful for the poem’s message. In spite of some confusion and misrepresentation regarding the authorship, O’Meara was taken aback by the intensity of the response and appreciated the numerous ways in which individuals used the poem as an inspiration for their own creative endeavors. She finds this form of collaborative creativity in tune with her belief in the community values of sharing and helping each other. After this experience, she began to use her blog posts as an opportunity to offer spiritual care in the virtual environment. O’Meara’s continues to write, both poetry and fiction. Some of that work is accessible on her blog The Daily Round.

Poem Text

O’Meara, Kitty. “In the Time of Pandemic.“ 2020. The Daily Round.

On this website, the author’s personal blog, the poem is entitled “In the Time of Pandemic”; however, it is widely known and elsewhere published under the title “And the People Stayed Home.” This guide uses the better-known title.


“And the People Stayed Home” imagines that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about a profound transformation in people’s lives. Even though it was written in the early days of the pandemic, the poem describes this transformation in the past tense as if it had already occurred. Forced to stay at home, people had more time for the activities that gave them pleasure. They became less restive and more attentive, until their very existence and way of thinking began to change. Then they healed, and the positive changes in their behavior enabled the earth to heal, as well. After the threat was behind them, people came together to mourn their losses and imagine a unique way to live, so that the earth could fully recover.