As I write this, I, like many of us, I am in almost complete, physical isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I have lost track of how long I have been doing this—each day seems like the next one. I, like probably a lot of others, am struggling with the isolation. I have been lucky enough to get out to do grocery shopping a few times, and to walk or hike at Little Buffalo State Park.
I know that I am so very lucky to have a home, to have an uninterrupted income. So many people right now are in shock at the sudden loss of income and the disruption to normal life.
I thought at first, that I would do OK in isolation, keep myself busy with crafts and books and Facebook, and emails to friends. But then about two weeks ago my internet modem started to act up, and then died completely the next day.
And then the day after that the land line phone died. I called the phone company (with cell phone standing outside in the rain, up the hill from the house, because there is no cell reception at my house!), and they came to fix it a few days later. So I had to learn to live without the internet for a few days.
Why is that so hard? Gee, 10 years ago I would have been fine without the internet for a few days. Incredible how we have become so dependent on it. I was rather feeling sorry for myself, because I could not read the New York Times or Washington Post, or do the daily puzzles. I could not watch the Great British Baking Show on Netflix. I could not connect via Facebook or email. I felt rather ashamed of myself because I had so many blessings still.
Many of our ancestors, of all faiths and ethnicities, lived through far worse situations. I am reminded, of course, of the flu pandemic in 1918. How did people cope with that, watching family members, neighbors and friends get sick and die, and being unable to help? How did people cope with the Blitz in London during the Second World War?
And of course there are even worse things that people have made it through. I think of the survivors of the Holocaust or the survivors of the massacres in Bosnia in 1995. I think of all those who are refugees today from Syria and from other countries, where conflict is part of daily life. They are living in far greater Hell than we are with pandemic isolation.
After my phone and internet were re-connected (many thanks to heroic phone technicians who are still working), I felt better and started to try to reach out more to people. I started reaching out to my elderly neighbors who are as lonely as me. It was wonderful just to chat with them on the phone.
I felt very blessed when a nearby friend needed to talk about some serious issues in her life. She came to my house, and we sat outside behind my house, staying at least 10 feet away from each other. We were lucky to be able to talk for three hours in lovely weather, and to maintain a safe distance. We both needed that.
Then my daughter and I did a video chat on Facebook Messenger. This was the first time we did this, and for me it was a joy to see her beautiful face and to talk in person, not just on the phone. Earlier this week, while standing 10 feet apart in the grocery checkout line, I recognized a friend from work (we both retired a few years ago), even though we both wore face masks. It was another time of joy to reconnect later that day, by phone.
All these little blessings keep coming to me. I don’t think I would have appreciated them a month ago, before this all started.
Passover started Wednesday evening on April 8. I agonized about how we might do a Seder remotely. Luckily we were able to do a Seder with five family members (myself, daughter, brother-in-law, sister-in-law and nephew), from four different locations, via video conferencing over the internet. For me, it was such a joy to see their faces. We read through the Seder, we laughed a lot…, and of course we look forward to being together, safely and in health, in person, soon. “Next year at Seder in person!” is how we ended the Seder.
Human beings are very social creatures, and our faith communities are very important parts of our social networks. I know that many of us are missing being with our faith communities, even as we realize how important it is that we stay far apart from each other in order to protect ourselves and those we love, and to protect the entire community.
I try to remind myself every morning, while trying to meditate, that it is time to get back to the basics. I am still breathing. I am still healthy. I can get out from time to time to buy groceries or gas, or hike at the park. All I can do right now is to keep going, keep breathing, and try to keep myself and others safe.
But one thing that this pandemic isolation has taught me is how much we need other people. I keep singing in my head that that song from the ‘60s or ‘70s: “No man is an island.”
“No man is an island.
No man stands alone.
Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own.
We need one another, so I will defend,
Each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”
God gave us families, friends and communities, because we need them to sustain life. We are now learning how much we depend on each other. I hope we can all remember that lesson after this is over.
Please stay safe and healthy. May God bring swift healing to all who are ill, and may God protect all those who are keeping us all alive through their ongoing work. And may God bring comfort to those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.
Emily Burt-Hedrick is the President of the Congregation Beth Tikvah.
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