87 days cocooned in my bubble; 2088 hours spent in my rhythm: planting an early garden, rediscovering my love for the dark hour just before the morning stirs, and attempting to love Faulkner for the 4th unsuccessful time; 522 power–struggling squalls between my children and thousands of extra kisses; this is not the sum of my experience sheltering in place, but it’s the gist.
Often I’ve romanticized a life lived on a tropical island; natural, remote, and raw. I envision the sea being a warm faithful companion and most worthy opponent. The weather would be sunny, and the seafood, amazing. In this fantasy, I am incredibly self-reliant, and can easily build and do anything. I sleep safe and sound at night; dreaming of the adventure and discovery that await me in the morning. A cute animal sidekick would be cool– I don’t know- I think I may have deviated from my point and turned this into a Disney flick. Back to the island; it’s a life lived simply in isolated authenticity. Many poets and philosophers alike have chimed that such solitude is the pathway to personal growth and enlightenment, a fulfilling life spent nobly and well invested. However, the dramatic isolation is much less appealing to me now after so many months marooned in quarantine. I hunger for people and camaraderie. I crave company, with histories, patterns, and understandings that don’t originate from my own experiences.
During these last few uncertain months, images of people expressing a similar desire to reach out and connect with each other flooded social media. Stories plucked from cities around the world showing footage of people craning out their windows to lift their voices in solidarity; singing, shouting, banging pots and pans, waving flags to signal to those around. ‘I am here. I see you. We are together.’ It was so good to see; my soul ached.
I consider the dichotomy of the world as it existed Before the virus shut everything down, and After as we all shuffle out of the darkness, squinting to see as our eyes adjust to the new normal. The categorizations Before and After an event, I am sure, are quite common for any life–altering experience. Before, I took my friends and family for granted. Our schedules were packed, and a “catch-up” phone call on the way to my next task seemed to suffice. Before, I struggled to be present in the moment. I lived an internal life apart from what was happening around me; drafting lists of errands or reenacting the stray practiced conversation or imaginary story line out in grueling detail in my head; all the while life was happening unnoticed. After, I am giddy to be out. Images of windows down and a dog sticking its face into the wind to immerse itself into the experience, come to mind. I am so happy to be with people face-to-face, I am sure I am slobbering all over myself like aforementioned canine. After, I am more mindful; my eyes sharp to the details, and ears keen to the stories of others. After, I am enraged at the futility of all the suffering and chaos.
The downtrodden masses emerge from their holding places; and demand justice long overdue. A deaf Republic, a blind economy, a crippled healthcare system, and resentful leaders fuel a fire that threatens to consume us all. As we yearn to find normal again in this After, so many people yearn to find it in new terms. Communities world-wide rise up together to advocate for the weak. The time spent in isolation made us all stronger listeners, better neighbors, and unified Americans. I am here. I see you. We are together. We woke from our dormancy with a fire in our bellies for action and reform, just in time for the primary election.
My mind drifts once again to the turquoise waters of my fantasy island, and days spent languidly in the sun. The appeal is lost; as I feel such a pull to action here at home. I trade the tropical vision for the American dream of high voter turnouts, continued advocacy for equality, and the strengthening compassion for the underserved in our communities. I bask in my relationships, and deeply hope to never take them for granted again. May all our Afters be invested in each other. It is what makes life meaningful.