I keep seeing posts calling this a strange, weird time. This feeling of unfamiliarity seems to be creating an eerie atmosphere as our communities now look very different than they did before. Such massive change and upheaval to our daily lives, at least for me, has created a cycle of emotional movement that I find difficult to process.
This noun, estrangement, describes for me the condition we find ourselves in. Estranged from our communities, in some cases from our families and even ourselves, compounds the effects of the real political and economic consequences we are facing. How do we deal with the fact that we are no longer able to participate in the anchoring spaces that we have built for ourselves? It could be church, colleagues, neighbors, and other organizations that fuel our need for social connection. Being estranged from these groups even as we are creatively trying to build new ways of continuing them makes for emotional challenges that we don’t really have a good language for yet. Articulating these feelings is a good way to process them but describing feelings that as a collective we have never felt before (at least in America) poses a unique challenge.
I don’t really have a way to do this either but I do think it’s worthwhile to continue talking through it. Writing, discourse, language offer us vehicles for discovering this way of talking about what is unfamiliar.
Perhaps what is most strange is this gift of time. Suddenly Americans are easing back, taking stock, breathing deeper, slowing, slowing. This feeling of not having to GO anywhere feels like a vacation. But it is accompanied with feelings of fear and anxiety. These two feelings, at odds with each other, have to coexist with us as we are in our homes and disconnected from the places we frequent most. I am working at settling into this new sense of time. To enjoy sitting quietly on my back patio and watching the sun rise. To find a rhythm of daily life that beats around love and family and self-care.
Of course, there’s that and then there’s the swirling jumble of other things rising to the surface. The thoughts and feelings that we numb with screens or with food or with doing all the things. In the space of just a week, for our family at least, the noise of the world has quieted and we are facing the voices that have been drowned out all this time. I learned today that a young woman, a substitute teacher at one of our high schools, took her life. For some, this part, this listening to our own heartbeats, is such a new and strange way of being that for some it is too much. It is overwhelming and painful. For me, it is overwhelming and painful. But I am also able to see the immense possibilities in this new sound of my heartbeat. To feel with grace the uncurling of my voice. The uncurling of my expectations, the uncurling of my love–for myself and the people around me. What happens when we are still is that we discover an internal divinity that has always been there. When we listen to it, it can teach us how to love ourselves so that we can love others. The saddest part about this woman’s suicide is that she never found that love and now cannot. The command to love your neighbor as yourself just doesn’t work unless we can be in tune with that self that is wholly our own and that is wholly loved. That is what estrangement can do. It can make us pause. Make us look around without expectation because there are none. No one has a program to follow or a rule book on how to do this. We have a unique opportunity to sit in this strangeness and discover ourselves. That is how I am living with COVID-19.