We’re coming up on a year, now — a year of confusion, isolation, sadness, and readjustment. Anniversaries are a time of reflection. What does this one mean?
There has been progress. Better mass adherence with the protocols needed to prevent the spread of this virus, national leadership that actually believes in science, vaccines rolling out slowly, bit by bit, jab by jab. But what else?
We have gone through this year with the ups and downs of trying to find new ways to connect with those we care about — Zoom cocktails, cold walks on the beach, outdoor gatherings heated by the closeness of friends, propane heaters, electric blankets, and the warmest coats we own; followed by Zoom exhaustion, seclusion, hibernation, a pulling in and away from the social connections we all long for and need.
Over these past few cold winter months, I found my own days of hibernation had begun to morph into a shapeless haze, while my feelings have fluctuated from low to very low to flat neutral, mixed with periods of deep gratitude for what I do have: for the beauty of the Outer Cape around me, and for all I did pack into my life back when I could.
Just recently, I began to feel the need for more structure in my life again. I wanted to start organizing my days better, to focus on more than just work and sleep and drink. I decided to force myself out of my own isolation and to reach out to friends with whom I hadn’t spoken in months.
But I was weary. What did I have to offer others now? After a year of distancing, it can seem easier just to be alone, to not bother others with our sadness or boredom. What is there to talk about anyway? What new have any of us done lately? The things our conversations used to revolve around — vacations, new adventures, parties, concerts, chance encounters with friends — are all gone. Would a call from me now be a gift or a burden? I wasn’t sure.
Slowly, I began making calls. With each one, I learned that many people are feeling the same — lonely, bored, isolated. Then, as our conversations went on, more was revealed: one friend has spent days unable to get out of bed; another has spent nights alone going over and over events in his life that he regrets. One outgoing friend starts our conversation by saying, “I may be quieter than normal. I feel I don’t have as much to say anymore.” One is worried that her steady music gig, her livelihood, which was suspended last spring, may never resume. Another lies in bed sleepless, worrying about an elderly mother who lives alone.
I have always loved making connections with strangers. Now, I often don’t make eye contact with others when I’m out. It’s as if wearing a mask makes us all invisible as individuals. I’m afraid I’m forgetting how to socialize. I’m often startled in a store if someone says something to me that pulls me out of my introspection and makes me feel normal, if only for a moment.
As I listen to these friends, I recognize that these admissions mark a sad chapter in our lives. Yet, somehow, hearing others express the same sense of isolation and social contraction, paradoxically, feels expansive. I am not alone in my aloneness, sadness, and apprehension. We are alone together. That is a gift we can safely share with others right now.
Christine Wisniewski lives in Wellfleet and works as a personal historian at Saving Stories.