Like many older women, I have built my life around community. From my church, to our Women’s Writing Circle, from the freedom to take day trips where I meet people and strike up unlikely conversations, I am dependent on community. Isolation is tantamount to stagnation. And so, it is that these times bring about special challenges for a woman alone, like me, no partner, but, fortunately, one with a healthy network of longstanding friends and, my family, my sons
I have turned to watching church services virtually. I post my comments in the share section, as do others, as we listen to "The Passion" being read or the pastor’s homilies about staying strong and having heart to weather storms.
I have revved up my old Kindle, which I hadn’t turned on in years because I prefer reading by holding a book in my hand, not reading on a screen, but all the libraries are closed. I have begun reading Educated by Tara Westover and Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher. The reading eases the hours of quiet here in my house where Lily and I pass our days. It also eases me away from the horror of the news stories coming like hand grenades, each one more dangerous and explosive than the last. The stories do not foster any sense of peace, only fear of apocalypse, and the older I get, I hardly need reminders of illness, infirmity and death.
Recently, I ran into one of my neighbors. She was on her afternoon jog when she stopped and we talked about this strange time in which we live. She has two young boys at home and when she isn’t helping them with schoolwork and homework, she worries about her mother who is eighty-one. “I don’t want her going to the grocery store,” the young woman told me. Her mother has preexisting conditions, of course, as many in their eighties do, so the woman grocery shops for her mother. When she gets home from the store, she wipes everything down with Clorox and rinses vegetables in soap and water. Maybe this is the joy of aging, I think, in that I do not have to caretake any longer and instead can relax a bit. While I wipe down countertops with Clorox, I do my own shopping, still visit with my sons, although we try to keep "social distancing", which is hard, since my son got a new puppy.
I have come to the conclusion that what will be will be. There is only so much I can do to stave off the specter of virus. More importantly is staving off the specter of isolation, of loneliness, of a lack of meaning to my days.
So, I walk Lily, breathe in the smell of the magnolias whose peach and cream colored petals have begun dropping to the ground, stop and look at tulips now blooming in riotous colors of red and yellow. I try to stay calm. I have weathered storms before, I tell myself. I have grieved the loss of a spouse and parents, of a best friend with Alzheimer's. Like my friends, I believe this too shall pass.
I remember seeing a hand-stitched work that said 'Happiness is Something We Create." Corny, but true. There is joy in the unexpected, there is learning in loss, there is time to be kind to myself and forgive myself for my imperfections. Isolation must be denied and community nurtured, both inside and outside, virtually or in person. I write, I reach out. I do the best I can. I hope and believe all will be well. And I do it with others, who reach out to me.