After six weeks of self-isolation, even those of us who are introverts are realizing we may not be as introverted as we think.
Like the phases of grief, this crisis has sent me through stages of emotion. At first, it was novel and even a bit fun – our morning routine was calmer, our daughter was released from normal school obligations, and we got to see more of each other and do more together. After a few weeks, we settled into acceptance with a new routine that included new experiences like FaceTime playdates, midweek movie and game nights, distance learning, and sleeping in on a regular basis.
Recently, however, many of us are feeling unsettled – not about anyone one specific thing but by the swirl of competing emotions. Sadness, worry, gratitude, boredom, and anger all mixed together suspending our ability to make sense of things and move forward. Nothing is normal even if nothing is specifically wrong.
The other day, driving through my bucolic New England town, it hit me. It’s the loss of community – the myriad interactions we have every day that we don’t even notice but play a huge role in giving us a sense of predictability, optimism, and security. It’s the other regulars at the coffee shop, the neighbors and their dogs, watching people greet each other as they cross the street, and seeing the town personalities in their predictable spots.
What’s interesting is it’s not my local friends or even people I know that give my days their predictable comfort.
It’s the older man, who walks the same loop every day, always wearing a Yankees shirt in the heart of Red Sox Nation who prompts me to smile at his bold defiance. It’s the staff at my daughter’s school who help ensure that drop-off and pick-up go smoothly. It’s my daughter and her friends who run to catch up with each other as they walk into school. For a while, it was the young man who rode his bike up and down the street, always riding only on his back tire. It’s the groups of kids from the neighborhood middle school and high school who have no sense of other people’s space. It’s the cashiers and shop owners at the local stores. It is all the people that give your days shape, routine, and color – and help you focus on something outside of yourself.
Often community is something you don’t know you’ve got until it’s gone.
The global COVID crisis has ripped it all away, leaving us unmoored but not quite rationally understanding why. The loss of loose ties seems insignificant until the compounding isolation creates an emotional shadow where unexpected joy, serendipity, and light connection once lived.
While digital spaces will never replace our physical communities, it is one reason to join and participate in more online communities – they are the places I bump into and interact with people I don’t know but share similar interests, where I sometimes see and chat with friends, and where I find things that make me smile or give me ideas.
And hopefully, when the self-isolation is over, we will go back to finding serendipity in the smile of a bartender, the helpfulness of a salesperson, or the greeting of a neighbor.