Monday, April 6, 2020

Keeping Community Alive in A Time of Isolation

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.

I talk to my women friends on the phone. Either they reach out to me, or I to them and we share this time of quarantine. Some have partners, others are widowed like me, but what all of us have in common, it seems, is a sense of resilience. Whether watching Hallmark romances on TV, or working in the garden, there is a “this too shall pass” mentality that I find comforting as days morph into weeks. There is no longer the urge to make every blessed hour count, either through work or projects, as in our youth, but, rather a commitment to finding opportunities in this time of isolation. Those opportunities might be reaching out to someone we haven't spoken to in years, reading a book, trying out a new recipe.

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.


Marian Beaman said...

You are doing all the right things, Susan, including reaching out here. If we walked in the park (6 feet apart of course!) you and I could discuss Educated by Tara Westover and Women Rowing North by Mary Pipher, each one so rich for discussion.

My writers' group and Pilates classes have both turned to Zoom, a good thing. I downloaded the app about a week ago, missed one class because I got tangled up with the ID number, but now I think "I've got it!" Anyway, it worked this morning for the writers' group.

It's good to be quiet, and I think I'm better at settling in than I was 2 weeks ago. This is a long haul, but "this too shall pass." I look forward to the day we can worship together and go out and about without fear. Here's to enjoying nature and the comfort of pets.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thanks so much for sharing, Marian. I would love to have that walk and discuss those books. We would have a great time. Glad to hear Zoom is working and it's a way to connect. So important to stay connected. Meanwhile, we have our pets. Lily is by my side right now, although the number of walkers with dogs has increased around here exponentially and it's hard to keep a tight leash on her when there is not very good dog etiquette going on. People don't step aside or show common courtesy by keeping their dogs lunging at yours. (The small dogs are the most aggressive and noisy.) That said, more important things to worry about than lunging dogs!

Sherrey Meyer said...

Susan, I agree with Marian that you're doing all the right things and yes, "what will be will be." We've been attending worship virtually as well as something our pastor came up with called Friday Night Reflections done from his back porch. We've recently lost two larger than life men from our midst, one to heart attack too soon and the other in a serious skiing accident. Both their wives are now widows, and both families had just experienced new births. Death in this time is not easy no matter the cause.

Bob has been shut out of any of his music activities, three bands and church choir. He really misses these activities, so he and some of his fellow musicians have arranged to each stand on his/her own front porch and play Taps at 7pm each evening in honor of those on the front lines, i.e. doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, police officers, etc. And he fills his days with yard work. But he misses his friends along with his music.

Together Bob and I look forward to the time we can return to our church home for services and gathering with our friends for meals and coffee. We want to see our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. But that must wait. Patience, I tell myself, patience. Love both you, ladies, and what you've shared here.

After four years of waiting for the taste of freedom from pain and surgery plus recovery, the shelter in place order came down. Here I sit. Not a widow, but wondering some days what to do with myself. My depression has come back and I'm fighting as well as I can with an increase in meds. Still working on PT exercises which I can't interest anyone to do with me, even virtually. So, I'm baking new recipes, reading new books, knitting up a storm, and doing my best to be grateful for what I do have.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Sherrey, Thank you for sharing with our readers what is going on in your life and Bob's, something I think many will identify with. I grew up across from a military academy and every night I could hear Taps being played. It is a somber reminder of the passing of many and also a tribute to those on the front lines, as you say. There is great courage going on out there and those are the news stories that most appeal to me.

Since my gym closed, I, too, have been dealing with the challenges of keeping up with exercise. Recently, I was diagnosed with arthritis in my knee. It came as a bit of a surprise to realize that now I have an "old person's" disease. Some days with it are better than others. I try and keep up with exercise, like walking. I find that two long walks a day help so much to dispel the depression beginning to form over me like that proverbial dark cloud.

I love how you are doing the best you can to be grateful for what you have. This is truly a show of resilience so give yourself a high five and a brava for that!

Marilyn said...

Hi Susan,
We all need community. Whether we live alone or with a partner, we need other people in our lives.
Isolation is difficult, but with modern technology, there are many options for keeping in touch. We can even take yoga classes or worship with our fellow believers. I find that I am reaching out to friends I haven’t seen in quite a while. Every single one is happy when I call, text or email.
Also, your photos are lovely. Thanks for posting them.
As you said, this too shall pass.

Susan G. Weidener said...

Thank you, Marilyn, for sharing your thoughts. It's hard not to take a good photo when you visit Longwood Gardens, which is where I photographed those tulips last year.

I agree that technology is often a lifeline in terms of staying in touch and breaking the isolation, but I have always found that to be true, even before COVID-19. What feels different this time is wondering if things will ever return to the way they once were. As my accountant said yesterday when I gave him my tax information, he's not at all sure when he will be willing to risk being around 20,000 other people at a Phillies game. I see his point. I think we all have to be prepared for the transitions we are yet to face when it comes to our way of life.