I have a confession.
With much of the world suffering physical, emotional, and economic, it feels disloyal… blasphemous, even. But it’s true.
Part of me doesn’t want quarantine to end.
I live in Australia where early action has flattened our curve; the national death toll stands at 93, as of this writing. The federal government has laid out plans for a phased roll back of isolation measures. If the curve changes direction, we’ll adjust accordingly. But for now, a gradual return to normalcy is in sight.
Selfishly, I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ quite yet. Autoimmune disease (in my case Hashimoto’s), and the chronic fatigue that comes with it, diminished my participation in community. Ironically, the pandemic restored it. Isolation ended my isolation. Maybe some of you spoonies can relate?
At the start of quarantine, I joked with friends who were struggling with their new reality: Welcome! Without realising it, I’d been training for this moment for years. I’ve had years to accept the fact that I can’t necessarily do or go where I like, when I like. Years of cooking every meal for myself because (on the AIP) there wasn’t an alternative. Years of staying in. Years of missing big events or small pleasures. Times when I didn’t see anyone but the people I live with. I’ve had time to stop struggling and accept it. Time to adapt and skill up. They’ve been thrown in the deep end, and I feel for them – I still don’t have this gig nailed. I chafe at my limitations and am periodically stunned by the realisation – again and again – that this is my reality. I understand their incredulity. But a little part of me is also delighted that they’re here.
I had no idea how lonely I was.
Then came Coronavirus, and suddenly, I have company – literal, virtual and existential. The world has slowed down to exactly my speed.
My house is full of people I love but rarely spend chunks of time with. My husband, who normally spends the work week travelling is… here. My two teenage boys, normally locked behind closed doors, are… here. Wandering into the kitchen throughout the day, looking for a cookie, a chat, lunch, maybe even a hug. It’s like having colleagues, but better. We play games after dinner while listening to optimistic music. Saturday night is family movie night, and during the week my younger son and I are steadily working our way through the West Wing, one episodes per day. With three other ball-throwers and walk-givers available, the dog has been restored to a source of joy not guilt. She’s not an item on my to-do list (that I may not be able to do), she’s Polly.
My siblings, fourteen time zones away in New York, are now regularly on the other end of my phone. Calls to my mother take place daily. Walking with friends is back on the cards: we head off from our respective homes alone at the same time and chat on the phone. I go at my own pace, can stop if I need to, and never have to preface our sessions an apologetic disclaimer or worry about them squandering their precious window for exercise on me.
My life-giving book group has kicked up a gear, meeting every three weeks instead of every six. For me, our video chats take place in pajamas, with wine, in bed (don’t judge – it’s the only place I’m guaranteed privacy and won’t disturb others). Another book-ish group (we watch movies, mini-series, documentaries, and sometimes read books) has gone from quarterly to every two weeks.
Neighbours, some of whom I know by name and others only to nod and smile, are buzzing like a hive on our street’s WhatsApp chat.
I dyed Easter eggs with my neice and nephew (they did the dying, I provided enthusiastic commentary) via FaceTime. I listened to my nephew’s book report over the phone. I organised a DIY session of Desert Island Discs with friends and heard stories and music that would never have come up in the course of ordinary conversation.
Community is about giving and contributing. The times when I’ve had to say no to the BBQ roster or the charity walk have smarted. I now have something to offer, as well as receive: company. And it doesn’t take energy, a change of clothes, or leaving my bed.
I have been liberated by the collective lack of movement. All the energy once spent driving, shopping, running errands, and ironing has been redirected into more rewarding pursuits, including writing and building a new website. I am bursting with creative energy and the fact that everything ‘normal’ has stopped has given me the time and space to act on it.
This devastating global upheaval has been the most productive, engaged, connected experience in recent years. I am loathe to give it up and am busy imagining ways for carrying the unexpected benefits of this temporary interruption into our new normal. I’ll let you know what I come up with.