“Sittin here with my tears
All alone with my fears
I’m wonderin if I have to do
Without you.” – Janet Jackson
“How are you feeling today?” I asked the young lady while I scanned the last of her items.
“Really alone,” she whispered.
Beat. “What’s that?” I asked.
I knew what she said, but for some reason I asked again. I thought about validating her response with: “I get it, I really do. I’ve been to hell and back when it comes to isolation. There are some useful online resources out there for mental health, though.”
But, I figured that was too much and might come off as insincere from a neighborhood cashier.
I gulped my words and looked at her lowered amber eyes as she dryly replied: “It’s just really hard these days.”
That broke me.
Time was up.
I handed her the bags and kicked myself a little. Her friend had the same melancholy tone as I scanned her few items. Both long-haired women were clad in gray sweatpants and oversized hoodies. Their faces sullen, pale. They appeared to have missed a few showers. They looked wholly troubled.
I wondered if they at least hugged each other or if the resounding ache of loneliness had reached their bones and joints. If they had run out of love to give in a world overflowing with fear. I still think about them. About the mom who got laid off from her job at the spa (she and her husband are raising three kids and burning through their savings account).
About the elderly couple that comes through my lane each week. They’re always kind and have helped me refine my small talk skills with every conversation about canned soup.
I think about the people who still haven’t found toilet paper and miss out every time we get a new shipment of hand sanitizer.
I want to help them all, console them all, meet them with an embrace unencumbered by protective barriers because my bones don’t ache. Not anymore. Not today.
I was self-quarantined long before this crisis — one of the small blessings from having had a manic episode.
I’ve mastered crafting worlds within the confines of eggshell colored apartment walls. I’ve had too much time to revisit every mistake I’ve ever made, to go so deep into wounds that I choke.
Too much time to swear at God. To cry myself to sleep.
Isolation can do this to you, even if you live with people who fiercely love you. And so, I feel the pain of the person I’ve never met, who’s lonely and unsure and full of shame over losing their job, or worried about life after graduation, or anxious about how they’ll support their undocumented family members, or really missing their grandparents they can’t even travel to visit. But in no way does this mean I know exactly what they’re going through because suffering varies like snowflakes and it’s cold out here. One thing I’ve learned about the wintery mix of heartbreak and uncertainty is we can get caught up with hourglasses. Time becomes an enemy because we spend so much of it wishing things would return back to normal, or trying to adjust to a new normal.
There is no right answer, but there are plenty of unhelpful answers.
It’s unhelpful to beat ourselves up. It’s unhelpful to further isolate. It’s unhelpful to stuff hope in the back of the fridge. Unhelpful isn’t wrong, but it sinks you. It fools you into thinking you’re helping when you’re hurting. On the flip, reaching out seems like a chore and like something ineffective. How does connecting with someone else improve anything when they’re going through what I’m going through? Positive self-talk feels empty. It’s not putting food on the table! Hope? Where was hope when my friend died? Do you see the spiral, the caught-up-ness of it all? It becomes a perpetual nightmare and we begin to implode — not all at once — slowly, on our own, but in plain sight. I don’t want that for you.
I want you to overcome and get through this and know this midnight isn’t forever. We cannot turn this car around, there’s no going back, but we will get through this.
Prom still happened. We will get through this.
A couple got married over Facetime. We will get through this.
Several animal shelters are emptying. We will get through this.
Mom and hero, Donna Shaw, sent nurses masks and gloves. We will get through this.
This fine gentleman sang to his girlfriend from outside her nursing home window. We will get through this.
There is value in every single healthy thing you do to ease your ache and connect in a time of 5G this and that. In a time of fake news and real blues. Don’t get too swept up. Pull away from the drama.
We’re all searching for answers, refreshing for updates, grasping for straws where there aren’t any. All of us. And yet, you were never alone (1 Corinthians 3:16). I pray you be reminded of this. Keep praying for my family and I too.
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