Disclaimer: I had to think hard about posting this piece. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a roof over my head and food to eat. I have the luxury of self-isolating in a nice place with my husband and kids and somehow, emotionally and mentally, this has not taken its toll on me as much as I thought it might. I am well aware, painfully aware, that not everyone has all, or even any, of these luxuries. So please read this in the spirit that it was written.
I’ve been feeling a bit emotional lately.
I know, I know.
We all have.
It’s been an emotional time and everyone is so up and down. One minute I’m smashing a workout and eating delicious home-baked experiments courtesy of Mr. Wanderlust. The next I’m yelling at the kids over inconsequential things and fighting the urge to start happy hour at 4pm on a Tuesday.
This is not that
This has nothing to do with the anxiety of coronavirus or about how overwhelming online learning is. It’s not about how much I miss people, how I’m grieving the loss of our summer plans, or how I’ve realised I have literally no chat once you take travel away from me.
And it has everything to do with the good stuff.
The little stuff.
The stuff that makes me feel connected to people and community and… well, my people.
In the beginning
It started with our first class zooms almost 2 months ago now.
I logged in with a bit of trepidation. How would this go? Would the technology work? Would they pay attention? Would they learn anything?
The screen loaded and 24 little squares appeared on the screen, each one with a familiar little face inside it.
The Things beamed. They were just delighted to see their teachers and their classmates. And the familiar sound of their teachers’ voices brought them back to where they needed to be.
And behind them, just slightly off-screen, I felt my breath catch in my throat as I watched them chatter to each other. Suddenly we were all connected from the isolation of our own houses. Suddenly, somehow, it was working with the teachers successfully disguising their nerves. I doubt that providing an online curriculum for weeks on end was ever part of their teacher training yet we all jumped on the learning curve together and started climbing up it.
From a distance
As we’ve found our groove and tried to establish a balance between online learning and burning off energy from the confines of our house, we’ve found more things to shape our days. Cosmic Kids Yoga has started our days almost every day since lockdown began while Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, has been our PE teacher every afternoon.
When I watch the Things listening intently to Jamie as she leads them through a yoga sequence or talks to them about why people are mean, I find my breath catching again. When Joe dresses up for Fancy Dress Friday or starts a quiz, it happens again.
These people aren’t in my village.
They don’t know me, or my Things, or that we are conscientiously watching them every day. They don’t know how they’re helping my family, but they’re doing it anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that they’re benefitting from this too. They’ve been catapulted to worldwide fame thanks to the impacts of lockdown (and I’m sure they’d rather that we had never all heard of COVID-19).
Doing it all together
Then I watch the Things leaping around the room copying Joe as he tells us how many hundreds of thousands of people are live streaming his workout.
And my breath catches again.
Somehow, I feel connected to all these strangers. All these parents who, just like me, are struggling along doing the best they can. We don’t know each other but I feel strangely comforted by the idea that we are all doing it at the same time.
That we’re doing it together.
Across the world, teachers and instructors of all descriptions are using the amazing communication tools that we have at our disposal. Everything from fitness classes to choir rehearsals have all continued (albeit in a modified version) thanks to the power of video conferencing.
Connecting with my tribe
Now that we’re all at home, I find text messages almost too much to keep on top of. Some people complain that it’s too much and I get that. Social media is relentless. People discuss the demise of Facebook after this and I wonder if they’re right. Even me, a self-confessed phone addict, I’m fed up with having my phone as company.
Yet at the same time, I feel reassured by these tiny moments of contact.
A desperate Facebook post, commenting on a hard day of online learning, or just observing sheer loneliness is enough to connect with friends who all feel the same way. My phone buzzes, letting me know there’s a message and it connects me to the outside world.
Just a few words on a screen and I’m reminded that someone, maybe only a few streets away, maybe on the other side of the world is thinking about me. A zoom with friends in the UK or our (far more) frequent calls with grandparents makes me appreciate that the Things are connecting with them in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be happening.
The connection feels stronger than ever, even though I have no idea when I will see any of these people face to face again.
Nothing to talk about
Through the barrage of COVID-related news, I sometimes struggle to talk about anything else. Everything comes down to coronavirus. Even indirectly.
And then, through the cracks, I see good news creeping through.
My heart soars as I read about wildlife coming out again now that the human race is virtually caged in. The videos of people going out to clap for those on the front line are enough to bring me to tears. Stories of neighbours holding street parties or a virtual cup of tea lift my spirits, as I delight in the power of community spirit and support.
It strikes me that the concept of social distancing is completely wrong.
We are physically distancing.
Socially I think we could be closer than ever.
Things will never be the same
We talk, in an abstract way, about how things will never be the same again. How we can never return to the normal we knew before. It’s abstract because we have no idea when anything even resembling normality will return. And it’s abstract because, really, we have no idea if things will or won’t return to normal at the end of all this.
Maybe we will all be changed forever.
Or maybe, after a while, we will forget all this and how it made us feel.
Travel will never be the same
There’s chatter in the travel industry about how it will change going forward. While there’s no way of knowing how that will turn out, I find myself strangely conflicted.
Not being able to travel, or even plan travel has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with through all this. It has proven to me just how important travel is to me. As a self-confessed travel addict, I guiltily celebrated images in the news displaying the drastic reduction in air traffic.
And yet, even before all this, I found myself questioning just how sustainable all this travel was. Not just for me but for all of us.
The more we travelled, the more I found myself disillusioned by an industry that exploits people who are financially vulnerable and the environment. I was increasingly uneasy about this disconnect between what I wanted our travels to be and what we kept finding at our destinations. I can’t help but feel that things were needing to change and maybe, now, this is the catalyst that we needed.
Suddenly the industry seems more united than before in the calls for not returning to normal.
If I remember anything about all this, I hope it’s not about lockdown and physical isolation.
I hope I remember the perspective it has given me and the new goals for travel and writing that have just come to me now my mind isn’t distracted by the busyness of life “before”. I hope we all continue to cherish the little things like a cup of coffee with a friend or watching the sunset.
Most of all, I hope I remember all the little ways I’ve felt connected to people across the world over the last few months.
Whether I know them not.