Finding Quietude in Quarantine
These past three weeks have been the most turbulent of my life; plans canceled, packing up and moving across the country on a moment’s notice, a constant fear of infection and infecting.
And yet, my problems are minute in comparison to those of the newly-unemployed, the grieving, the nurses, the doctors, and the infected. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and chaos that surrounds this time for them; my mother is a nurse and my father is a doctor — simultaneously, my admiration and worry for them grow by the day.
This virus has affected all of us in some way or another, paradoxically uniting us under a common situation while forcing us to physically separate and withdraw.
It seems that as we shutter our windows to the outside world, distancing ourselves from the places we know and the people we love, we are presented from every angle with what is known: infection counts, mortality counts, unemployment rates, economic rates. Every channel is a constant stream of foreboding coverage that hints at the unknown we have all internalized and ask: when will this end? How will this end? What will society, the economy, my life look like once we see this through?
The combination of the known and the unknown during this time weighs heavily over us all. In this time of unprecedented stress, my mind often wanders to the stories that comforted me as a child. My mind turns to Atlas, the sky-bearing titan. At least Atlas knew what he was carrying on his shoulders; the sky never increased in size as he carried it. For us, every day brings more confusing, heavy news. And with it, more unknowns.
But somehow, in a manner so inconsistent with the uncontrollable and somber situation that surrounds us, during this time of distancing I have felt closer than ever to the people I love.
This is how I got there.
On March 8th, I returned to my university’s campus from Spring Break. During the day of March 9th, classes resumed as usual, unbeknownst to thousands of students that by the evening of March 11th, classes would be moved to entirely virtual and they would have to vacate all campus housing within four days. Word spread that students on-campus had tested positive. University curricula became lessons in isolation and distancing.
Panic set in.
The unknowns ran rampant in my mind: had I unknowingly contracted it? Am I putting my family at risk if I go home? Where do I go now?
I booked a flight home to Seattle, read about the virus’s risks in older age individuals, canceled it. The chances of me having the virus were low, but I refused to put my parents’ health at risk.
Amidst the chaos of throwing four years’ worth of belongings into two suitcases, giving dozens of socially-distant goodbyes, and finding a place to live for the foreseeable future, I received a piece of good news: I could move in with my brother’s friends in Montana. An unknown became known.
Pleading with airline agents to allow me to travel with my overstuffed, hurriedly-packed luggage, flying was a test of nerves; the slightest cough brought suspicious and worried eyes from all around. I made it to Montana, an unfamiliar state far from home; my new home for the foreseeable future.
I moved in with people I had never met and immediately limited my contact with them. I felt like a refugee in my own country, fleeing to a place away from home.
Now, time is an infinite commodity and the outside world is a valuable, rare thing. But in these days and weeks, I have seemingly antithetically felt a greater sense of calm and closeness to family and friends than at any point in the weeks or months prior to these circumstances.
But in the most elementary and base sense, that doesn’t make sense. Like I mentioned before, we are in the most turbulent times in decades; we are forced to separate from family and distance ourselves from friends. Calm and closeness stand diametrically opposed to these circumstances. But it seems that because of these circumstances I am simultaneously reminded of the importance and power that family and friends have in my life. I am literally forced to slow down and reconsider the value that I put in certain things in my life and to detach from so much unnecessary clutter.
The hours and hours that I am now forced to spend under a ceiling and between four walls have brought me back to the things that matter and that I value most:
I have called my mom, my dad, my sisters, and my brothers more during this time than in recent memory. The family bond — that undying, relentless, innate care for one another — that often gets lost in the clamor of everyday life has come to the surface again for me.
I have focused on my own happiness, exploring the things I told myself I never had the time to do. I opened the journal back up that I told myself I would fill but never did. I baked a loaf of bread for the first time. I found that moving into a house full of strangers is only as bad as you make it out to be; board games bring people closer more than any video game I’ve ever played. I ruined a poached egg for the first time. I shot on my film camera again, documenting so when my children read about this in their history books, I can show them the pictures. I started reading again; I started writing again. I started a book club with old friends I hadn’t seen in months. I asked my mom for all the recipes of the dishes I loved growing up, slowly writing down measurements and techniques that had been slowly developed, honed, and perfected by the force that is my mother.
The important thing about all this is not that you have to take on a new hobby or learn a new skill; the activities above are the things I enjoy — do what you enjoy for no other reason than to enjoy it.
Many people’s situations are vastly different from mine. Not every person has a safe place to stay, not every person has the spare time that I do. What I write here is not a trivialization of the tremendous hardships that millions of people around the world are undergoing in these dire times. The purpose of these words is to provide some solace for those who find themselves shut between four walls as I have been.
The unknowns still linger: I am entering an upended economy. Will the job offer that I worked and studied for years to attain still be there in the next few weeks? What will the world look like in the weeks to come?
But in the face of everything I don’t know in these times, the greatest thing I do know is how powerful human connection is; whether that be friends, family, community, or the simple connection between billions of people around the world going through this, together.
Send a text, make a call, stay physically distant but socially close.
And as I close these words, my mind drifts back to just a few hours ago as I watched the last few waning rays of sunlight shine on the dirt road behind the house. Standing in the window, I watched as a teenage boy guided his younger brother’s first bike ride without training wheels, ready to catch him if he fell.
In this chaotic and unprecedented time, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling, with no control over the circumstances around you. But in these times, it is your family, friends, and the people who care about you no matter the barriers between who will catch you and keep you upright.
In those final, fleeting moments of daylight, after falling over and over into his brother’s arms, the little boy took his first few unassisted pedals, staying upright the entire time. Mirroring the boy’s ear-to-ear smile, I couldn’t help but think to myself that today, in these turbulent times, this little boy kept me upright.
I can’t cure this virus but it is still my responsibility to contribute what I can and act deliberately to limit its spread, protect those around me, protect myself and my family, and protect healthcare workers and their families.
Any proceed from this post — whether it be ten cents or ten dollars — will be donated to Direct Relief, a charity working to equip domestic and international doctors and nurses with protective masks, exam gloves, and isolation gowns. Nonprofit organizations are on the ground doing the hard work. Here’s how you can help.