I stand staring into the refrigerator, frowning. It’s not a disappointed frown. There’s plenty of goodness in there: fruits, roots, veggies, greens, berries. And I enjoy them all. But they require a kind and level of strategy I’ve not needed to engage before.
It makes me impatient. Unsympathetic. And, I’m afraid, a little less gracious than I’d like.
I hear about people going stir crazy. I hear complaints about cabin fever and loneliness and boredom. I read about people protesting safety measures, risking their lives (and others’) by refusing to comply. I read laments about wanting a “return to normal” — the bustling, busy-ness that so many people complain about when they’re doing it. No time to slow down. No time to themselves. No time to do what they want to do, to pursue hobbies, to read. No time to “just be.”
And, now that they have it, they hate it.
Don’t get me wrong. I get that the complaints and laments — and especially the rebellions — are rooted in that greatest of “civilized” human religions: freedom of choice. I know that enforced anything goes against the grain, including leisure time. I understand that getting what we ask for often chafes.
I’m not completely unaffected. I, too, wonder if I’ll ever hug my parents again. Or my brother or sister and their spouses. My nephew. My niece, whose birthday is tomorrow. It’s been almost three months since I’ve been hugged. More than six weeks since I’ve so much as shaken a hand, that tiniest form of human contact. If, as research suggests, we need several hugs per day to thrive, I’m withering. If, as research also suggests, we need at least one hug a day to resist disease, well…I’d be better off, in these days of COVID-19, living in a bomb shelter on canned rations than risking my life by going grocery shopping, the only outing I’ve allowed myself, other than my daily (and necessary) walks with the dog.
But, honestly, outside of a drastic dearth of human contact, the global pandemic has had little effect on my day-to-day. I’ve lived alone for most of my adult life, and solitude is a way of being for me. Yes, I get lonely; and yes, my loneliness has increased a little since stay-at-home orders were implemented here in the rural area where I’ve chosen to live. But, by-and-large, I’m comfortable with loneliness, as well as being alone. I’m endlessly self-entertaining — to a fault, some might say — and there are always projects to do, books to read, cleaning to be done, my (11-acre) yard to explore, a dog to play with. For the first time in my 50+ years, the world is operating by introvert standards, and I fit right into the rhythm of it. For the majority of the world — the extroverted majority — the challenge is more keenly felt. I feel fortunate.
My own struggles — and the reason for my frown while staring into the fridge — are more pragmatic, more survival-based, albeit still first-world:
How will I care for my dog if I fall ill with this awful disease? Who will care for him if I need to be hospitalized — or worse? Can I rig up a long leash, in case he needs to go out, and all I can do is crawl to the door to open it?
How often and with whom do I need to check in so that someone will know if I’m in dire trouble? Who needs to have whose names and phone numbers in case of emergency? And what, really, can anyone do for me if I do get sick?
What buttressing do I need to have in place to care for myself? How often do I do laundry to ensure I have clean clothes? Do I have disposable plates and cups and flatware on hand, in the event that I’m too sick to do dishes? How often should I take my garbage to the waste center, given that I might have to go longer than a couple of weeks before driving out to dispose of it?
Do I have enough toilet paper for several weeks? (No.) Enough kleenex? (No.) Enough soap? (Yes.)
And food. What can I make now and freeze so it can just be thawed and heated if I’m unable to do anything more than that?
It all sounds overly dramatic, perhaps — especially to people who have “no one but their families” to interact with at home or neighbors they can depend upon living only yards from their doorstep. Oh, I’m sure my own neighbors would do what they could for me — because they have been more than generous already. And I’m certain there would be several people in my life — related to me and not — who would take the risk of coming to my aid, from hours away, because they care about me.
But is it fair even to ask? What kind of a burden am I prepared to be to people whose lives might be negatively impacted by their willingness to help? If it came down to it, wouldn’t it be more responsible to warn people away, refuse assistance?
Well. These aren’t things I need worry about just yet. But I do need to take steps to shore up my solitary life as best I can.
I also need to express my regrets: I apologize if I’ve been less than sympathetic when you’ve told me that being shut in with your family is driving you crazy. (You have someone to live with?) I apologize if I answer your bemoaning of having too much time on your hands with suggestions for filling it. (There are so many cool things to do!) I truly am sorry for not being more patient and kind when you say you think you’ll run mad if you can’t go out and do something you find entertaining. (Again: I’m an introvert.) What you’re feeling is real and intense and difficult to navigate. I’m not living my values when I grit my teeth and silently (or not) judge you for not seeing this time as a gift or not turning inward in meditation to find something new and wonderful about yourself or not healing some old hurt or not discovering a new hobby. (Yeah, I see what I did there. I should do better. And I will.)
And me? I have work. My bills are paid. There is sunshine. I can walk in the woods with my dog and discover what’s blooming there. I can tend to the seedlings I’ve planted in hopes of a bountiful summer. I can listen to the tree frogs and owls at night while I’m curled up with a book. I can take a deep breath without wondering if it’s my last. In short: I am well.
And, you know, there’s food in my fridge for which I need a strategy…in case. But, by god, there’s food in my fridge.
I am grateful.