Last week, a former student of mine messaged me from across the country and asked how I was doing. AND, she wanted to send me some of her homemade jam (or marmalade–she’s going to surprise me).
How am I doing? Homemade jam?
Her generosity and concern brought tears to my eyes.
You see, I thought I knew isolation, thought I was an expert already at social and physical distancing. After all, that’s what I had been practicing for over two years, and not because I chose to. I thought I knew how to fill an evening or a weekend by myself.
Turns out, I don’t know much.
And, this week has slapped me down. I needed that student’s message: “how are you doing?”
Because, to be honest, I’m struggling. Unlike so many, I am lucky to be able to work from home and pay my bills. Yes, I talk to my daughters and my parents every day. My extended family has created a messaging group for us to keep each other updated. I’m teaching remotely, emailing students, attending Zoom meetings.
I am connected, but I am struggling.
In many ways, I’ve regressed an entire year, back to last winter when I was marking time. The new normal that I had been adjusting to until a month ago has been erased entirely. All of the plans I had made, new dreams I had invented, can’t happen anymore.
This is true for nearly everyone. The future seems beyond our control. Everything is uncertain. We are all waiting to find out what our new normal will be.
We are trying to be resilient. We’re trying to reshape our plans into forms that are doable. Proms and graduations and college orientations, birthdays and anniversaries–we are all trying to take what was wonderful and transplant it into a different time and space or format.
Our world has become at once larger and smaller. We meet online with one another across state borders. We participate in live-stream global concerts and performances. But in reality, we also stick to our homes, our yards, our neighborhoods, and most likely, we will for the foreseeable future.
And, it’s here–in my home–that I feel more alone than ever. Living alone and intentionally cutting off any in-person contact with friends, family, and colleagues shrinks my world to me, myself, and I. Weekends have always been tough, and life now is one unending weekend. If I watch a movie, I have no one to discuss it with. If I have an idea or a funny observation, I have no one to share that with. And, I’ve watched a lot of movies lately and thought a lot of thoughts. Lord knows, when I get my poor dad on the phone every afternoon, he has to listen to me talk and talk and talk. Usually I try to rein myself in before I lose his attention.
Additionally, and more painfully, I’ve confronted the fact that I really will live the rest of my days all by myself. My new new normal looks more lonely than I had hoped it would a month ago.
So, thank you, former student Lilly. Thank you for remembering me, for checking in on me, and for sending me some of your finest jam. Thank you also for reminding me that because I know how utterly lonesome living through a pandemic feels, I should pay your kindness forward to someone else who might be struggling.