The words social isolation fail. Maybe bodies apart/people connected succeeds as a term for this time. Isolation wouldn’t be healthy. Don’t people need people?
Hunkering down works. Hunkering down would include aloneness without loneliness, would include sorting old photos, doing puzzles. Solitude might bring benefits. Maybe in these at-home hours, we could grow more creative, concoct a new recipe for lentil stew, with celery and thyme, with time.
Sometimes I put on my teal jacket, the one my daughter gave me for Christmas. I tuck this lightweight windbreaker under my fleece, or pull it over my turtleneck, and walk out of my garage onto my driveway, and into the road. I see neighbors. We do not distance. Well, yes, 6 feet distant. We give each other wide berth. Yet we “social-ize.”
This one, in her usual crouch, digs up winter’s debris from what will bloom into her stunning garden. She stands when I say, “hi!” We have conversations like: How was your winter? Ok. Long. Yours? Same. Glad we returned from our trip before the virus hit. How are your grandkids? Ok, yours? Good, I miss them. Me too, I miss mine.
That one washes his car. We wave. Our talks sound like: How do you like yoga on Zoom? I miss going to class, you? Same, me too.
“Same, me too” is unity, not distance.
I walk past the house where my good friend lived, the first person I met after we moved here. At the mailboxes, she had said welcome. She told me she’d lived here for decades, and that Hannaford was four miles from our houses, and Shaw’s, three. She said most of the neighbors have a favorite. I said, thank you, I’ll choose, too. She said, good. And then this woman whom I had known for mere minutes said, I know I’m going to like you. I can tell you are a woman who makes up her own mind.
She moved three years ago, down the street, around the corner. Last week I invited her and another neighbor to what I called a “porch party.” I had waited for a warm afternoon when the late sun hit my front deck. I placed my colorful plastic deck chairs away from each other, one in each corner on the gray stones. We sat together/apart, apart/together. We inquired, how are things, how’s life, how are you? We celebrated. We smiled for no reason. We told jokes and giggled for good reasons. We encouraged. We empathized. We said we’d do it again. A friend drove by in his white van, rolled down his window and teased us from the road, “where’s the wine?”
Another neighbor strolled by with her dog and thumbed up, “Good idea. I’m going to do this too.”
Families peddled by on bikes. Kids streamed by on rollerblades.
When the world opens up, when we leave our homes for work, or to meet friends for coffee downtown or we go out for lunch, or we travel to see those grandkids we miss, I don’t want to lose this feeling of neighborhood. I want to laugh more, still, again. I want to host porch parties. I want the same waves, chats in the driveways, the same social connections. When we get to go out for dinner or the movies, when we get to linger at Shaw’s or Hannaford, whichever one we choose, I hope we remember how our hearts felt when we knew the wonder of each other as we lived in the time of bodies apart/people connected.