Struggling with Coronavirus Isolation? Look for What Needs to Be Done
Maybe I should say something – respond to all this coronavirus madness and, true to my nature, try to bring a light of hope or some nugget of enlightenment. For the past six weeks, I felt strangely caught without much to say, not because I’d lack thoughts, but because I simply don’t share the experience with what seems to be the majority of our population. But perhaps that’s more the reason to share my perspective.
When I see funny videos about being bored at home, they are a good laugh, but I don’t actually understand them. I have never been bored, not even while waiting someplace for hours. I willingly go into isolation, such as spending two weeks in a monastery cell to find the peace to write. My internal worlds (intellectual, emotional, creative, spiritual) are so rich that it’s frequently more fun to go inward than to focus on the endlessly entertaining external world.
So how can I try to help someone with decades of the job-kids-chores gerbil wheel behind them, who was finally forced to look inward and finds the mess terrifying? Or, more precisely, someone trying to find any household activity to continue avoiding looking inward? I spent decades teaching people to develop their inner landscape and if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that it takes time. The moment of crashing on your own rocks may be instant, such as an announcement of a coronavirus quarantine, but picking up the pieces and reassembling them takes not weeks, but likely months or years.
Talking to my friends and collaborators, I hear the same message “I’m so glad I did ‘the work’ before the coronavirus.” ‘The work’ being a serious effort in self-examination and alignment. Methods vary, but the menu is pretty much the same – healing past wounds, forgiving, opening up to new possibilities, building solid relationships, connecting to nature, pondering mortality and learning to welcome changes. They are not shocked, because they have been through fundamental changes before. They are never lonely, just temporarily alone. They are concerned about their future, but not afraid.
Being Together 24/7
Facebook feeds me jokes about couples who want to kill each other because they are stuck at home, followed by the much less fun statistics about the rise of domestic violence. It’s alarming and not surprising, but again, so far from my personal experience. I spent 25 years with my husband, both of us working from home, most of the time collaborating on the same projects. Ten years of that we lived quite isolated in the mountains, now 6 months each year at our cottage which has a 12m2 footprint. We’re together pretty much 24/7 for decades and we still love each other.
Don’t ask me how we do it, I don’t really know. Of course, we fight at times, but we had to learn to handle the fire and release tensions as fast as possible. A friend of ours, who spent weeks helping us renovate our flat, once said “Do you guys realize, that thus far, there wasn’t a single thing you agreed on? Not once would one of you suggest something and the other one would just say ‘OK?’ and do it?” He said it as we had a wild creative discussion over the best way to hang pans in our kitchen. The position of each hook, namely. But the result of those tedious discussions is a home we both love and where we live 24/7. It doesn’t feel like a compromise, even though it is the result of many compromises.
Words like respect, honesty, openness come to mind. Tolerance, of course. There is nothing left to hide and so, we are free to be ourselves. It was this total immersion in a relationship that finally gave me the wings of freedom that I craved as a teenager. Unlike my previous boyfriends, he was willing to go all the way to the bone, have a complete connection. We spend a lot of time talking. I realize it’s a luxury, but communication is critical for all deep and close relationships. And I simply don’t have shallow ones.
Airplane Wings Clipped
Online, people whine about their travel plans being canceled. Instead of plopping themselves on a beach in Croatia, it looks like they will have to swim in a Czech pond and somehow that’s not good enough. “They worked hard. They deserve a beach holiday.” Someone is clipping their wings and they don’t realize that freedom is not external anyway.
Just ask Holocaust survivors or Albert Woodfox who spent 43 years in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit. The sense of freedom is attainable regardless of circumstances, if you look inward. Externally, there is always someone or something clipping your wings. Of course, I grew up in a communist country, so I’m sensitive to someone encroaching on my external freedoms, but I don’t depend on them in order to feel free. I might fight to defend my rights (or someone else’s), but internally, I’m free anyway.
How did we come to equate our sense of freedom with our right to cheap Euro-weekend flight tickets to Paris or Rome? Someone in my social bubble actually asked for tips for how to outsmart the system and sneak out of the country for a little trip because she “needed some inspiration.” Really? Inspiration? You mean the Czech Republic, the place that annually attracts millions of tourists, isn’t inspiring enough?
Maybe if Czechs spend a summer in this country, if the only language you hear in Prague streets will actually be Czech, we may be more grateful for what we have. If sellers of Russian army hats and matryoshka dolls disappear from downtown, I won’t be sorry to see them go. Maybe the restaurants on Old Town Square will finally become affordable to a family of four from Ostrava. My husband and I crisscrossed this country on a motorcycle and God knows it’s pretty enough for anyone needing some leisure.
For me, a travel ban not just a matter of less leisure. I have friends all over the world. People I love and care about. My close collaborator (the ‘second part of my brain’ as my husband calls him) is in Turkey. His freedoms were restricted even before the coronavirus when he was denied a visa to visit us here. So, I hoped to go there and work on our project.
I planned to spend long minutes looking into his eyes because that’s the fastest way we tune into that amazing creative wavelength. We joked that with a little practice, we’ll get to telepathy and won’t need any machines to communicate. Now we are stuck with chats over a bad internet connection (forget Zoom) and grateful to have even that. The output won’t be the same. It will take longer, it will be harder and perhaps our best ideas may never come this way. For me, a travel ban is about the lost potential of something outstanding that may fail to emerge. But I’m not upset, it’s what it is.
How dare we complain? Because of our dark memories of closed borders during Communism? Oh, c’mon. It’s time to grow up a little. There are over a hundred countries with travel bans right now and we blame Babiš’s communist background? Not that I like this guy, but really? Are we really that self-centered that we can’t see the reasons beyond it?
Of course, politicians and sharks will try to abuse a situation for some extra cash or power. More the reason to stay vigilant. And yes, statistics and strategies are to be scrutinized and discussed, but this is not just about numbers. It’s about gaining time to prepare for more, it’s about not overloading the health care system. And would you really want to risk have your relative die alone in a hospital without you being able to hold their hand? Your parent, partner, your child?
I experienced it with my dad, who died during a flu epidemic when the hospital banned visits. Three weeks of agony, until one day, you get a dry phone call and that’s that. You never get over that pain, believe me. You never stop wondering whether he, coming in and out of consciousness, understood why nobody comes to see him. If we count that every victim of coronavirus has, say, five close family members, there are currently over a million people who received that dry phone call and will never get over it. My heart goes out to them.
The Privileged Quarantine
It strikes me that all that whining and crying while binging on Netflix and potato chips is indicative of something else – our sense of entitlement. We are so outrageously privileged that people resolve their isolation doldrums by sharing gourmet recipes requiring exotic ingredients. I mean, have you tried cooking your own Shrimp Pad Thai yet? C’mon, it’s much better than takeout!
Somehow, if you didn’t bake a home-made bread at least once in the past six weeks, you didn’t grasp the meaning of this crisis. First, we buy up all the yeast, like it’s the end of the world, then we share bread pictures. Then we ask for recipes for yeast spread because all that yeast is stinking up the fridge and we better use it up. Ever heard of sourdough starter?
And then, as a contrast, there are the tragedies next door. Not just those sick or dead. The first-responders who work ungodly hours and risk their lives. The scientist tearing their hair out trying to find a cure or a vaccine. The social workers who end up living in the facilities to protect their families. The amateur and professional seamstresses who outfitted ten million people with masks over the course of three days. And even the politicians (of either side and creed), who inherited the house of cards we call economy and watch it tumble. The bottom card was pulled out by an invisible little enemy nobody was ready for and they tumble with it.
There are the desperate parents trying to run a home office and homeschooling at once. Single mothers, who lost their single income and can’t really expect alimonies anytime soon. The frantic business people whose careers are over, the family businesses built for generations and hanging on a shoestring, now broken. And the unsung heroes who try to keep their companies running under difficult circumstances and facing unsure future.
So, all of you privileged and bored, all of you still unwilling to look inward and about to ask your social bubble for Netflix suggestions… why don’t you ask something else? Something simple like “What can I do for you?” Maybe someone needs a chore done or they are too busy to cook. Maybe you are sitting at home with a scanner and someone is trying to digitize their family photos to send to their lonely relative. Maybe a family business or a non-profit could use an avid social-media fan to promote them. Let’s turn that into a hashtag #whatcanidoforyou
I don’t have a nugget of enlightenment for you, but let me leave you with a quote that defines my settings more than anything else.
“I look for what needs to be done. After all, that’s how the universe designs itself.”
R. Buckminster Fuller, American inventor (1895 – 1983)
As, for me, I’m off to build a garden wall with my husband and my buddy. Anyone else willing to haul buckets of gravel down a hill is welcome. Social distancing assured.
Image by rein schoondorp from Pixabay