Isolation: it’s not the same as solitude.
I miss my students. I get to meet with a few of them each day through an online platform, but it is not the same as seeing them in the hallways, seated across from me in my office, at the cafeteria, in the library, and wandering around campus. I miss their youth, their various fashion statements, their conversation, their energy.
I know, as well, that they long for one another. The seniors are deeply disappointed that they are missing senior events–dances, dinners, parties, commencement exercises–once-in-a-lifetime college experiences. They are losing out on internships and international travel, club activities and sports events. The freshmen are anxious and confused–online classes? Living at home again? This is not what they thought they were signing up for! Students who major in the performing arts feel devastated that their chance to shine on stage in theater or dance will not happen this semester. It hurts.
Friends who are at high risk are “self-isolating” and hyper-alert, and I worry for them. My best-beloveds are all on various forms of lockdown, but we have worked out communication methods so we can stay in touch. Well– “in touch.” Because touching is discouraged, but communicating matters so much right now. Examples:
My tai chi instructor sends out messages of encouragement, ideas for practice at home, reliable COVID-19 information, and reminders to stay grounded and balanced.
The distance-education IT/software platform department at my college has a staff working overtime and under considerable pressure to assist instructors in the rapid move to online instruction. They send out cheerful and informative emails, encouragement, jokes–and are hosting a 3 pm Friday ‘cocktail hour’ meeting we can log into so we can complain, ask questions, joke around, and visit virtually.
The staff at my parents’ assisted living campus has two employees working (extremely patiently!) with residents who need assistance communicating with loved ones who can no longer visit them. The residents have hearing loss, vision loss, neuropathy in their fingers, arthritis, and often, some cognitive losses. Staff members sit with residents and work out methods of staying in touch. Elderly people are already isolated; they truly need connections with others, need to know that their lives are valued.
A friend whose church group sponsors a free meal for all every Tuesday night in Philadelphia continues to serve the at-risk community by packing up the dinners for takeout instead of serving at communal tables.
We are fortunate. I am trying not to forget how fortunate such inconvenience is. For many other human beings, the inconvenience is compounded by danger.
In Wuhan, China, authorities report that there have been no new cases of the illness in the past week. There’s hope. When we touch again, let us rejoice more mindfully, recognizing how powerful touch can be.
Michelangelo Buonorotti, Sistine Chapel
UPDATE, here’s a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece by Andrew Sullivan–well worth reading. (click link)