Photo via Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash
Sheltering in Place Has A Bright Side
Last week, Los Angeles issued new "shelter in place orders," a bitter pill to swallow for those already fatigued from months of social distancing. The pandemic has challenged norms of communication and connection in unparalleled ways, causing us to ask ourselves tough questions like, "in what ways do I need human contact?" and "what constitutes connection?" While overwhelming, the opportunity to ask hard questions like these can be a blessing in disguise, as knowing their answers are the key to crafting a meaningful life.
Social distancing also shines a harsh spotlight on our pre-pandemic life choices. Early statistics show that appeals to domestic violence helplines around the world are up by as much as 25% in 2020. Beyond the COVID-19 death told, the pandemic has pushed many living in loveless marriages, with addiction, and with untreated mental health issues to the breaking point.
My own pandemic sheltering-in-place scenario was unconventional, but I was grateful for it. I'm a divorced mother of two who's chosen to live next door to my ex, so that we can continue to raise our children as partners. That meant that the four of us — my ex, myself, and our two kids — were going to be locked in together, and I was pretty darn okay with that. There are many worse ways to "shelter in place" than with two small houses, two kids, in a picturesque natural setting. And, while I've nearly lost my mind countless times as the pandemic has worn on, it hasn't been because of my "shelter buddies."
My favorite "sheltering in place" stories are the small surprises, the unexpected revelations that emerge from being locked in with someone whom you know you don't fully know. For me, those revelations have come from my kids, a boy on the cusp of 10 and a girl on the cusp of 13. They are becoming complex human beings right now while playing only with one another while facing death, and while making peace with the very adult fact that they can't see their friends, not because it's dangerous for them, but because their freedom puts others at risk. This month, I've been moved again and again by just how big my son's heart is, and just how careful of an observer my daughter can be. These two don't miss a thing; it's a wonder to behold.
Then, there are the dream stories — three women in my particular circle — who found true love months before Coronavirus descended. These are women in their 40s and 50s, women who have broken free or refused to settle, who found new love at precisely the right moment. They're living a societally imposed extended honeymoon, the lucky few.
But the interesting stories are the ones in between, not the miserable marriages that should have ended long ago or the ripening new loves, but the stories of people who had not yet taken the time to dig deep before the world hit the pause button.
These are roommates who hadn't bothered to get to know one another and folks separated by all kinds of social divides, like age, gender, socio-economics or personality styles.
As humans, we can write one another off for all kinds of bad reasons because we're overwhelmed or distracted. But, during social distancing, to stay sane, we need the people we've got, and when we give them our attention, we may find that they are more than their first impressions or the boxes we've stuffed them into led us to initially believe.
Though novelty is a basic ingredient for human joy, most of us can only tolerate it in limited doses. In his essay, "On Repetition, On Novelty" therapist Tennyson Dodd explores Freud's views on novelty and security stating, "We're literally frightened out of novelty and begin to live in a way to ward off the possibility of surprise." As a result, we label and box-in the people in our lives, so that we can better predict their behaviors and manage our expectations of them. This strategy, while often necessary in our fast-paced lives, can deprive us of great richness. Now that a pandemic is forcing us to slow down, we have the time to get to know one another on a deeper level.
Even if we've known our sheltering buddies for decades, the miracle of human beings is that we are actually, each of us, universes unto ourselves, full of unexpected surprises.
During social distancing, when we cannot go outside and cannot enjoy so many of the distractions that we often use to fill our days, why not turn to the person who happens to be next to you and ask an unexpected question?
You'll never know what you'll discover!
Here are 5 questions to get you started:
- What did you dream about last night? How does your dream make you feel today?
- What's a fear you've overcome? How about a fear you hope to overcome?
- If you could be "sheltering-in-place" anywhere, where would it be and why?
- If you could change one of your habits or addictions, what would it be? How could you start today?
- What was it you loved about your first love? What did you love about yourself when you were with them?
It will be some time before we know the long-term, non-medical impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused us to live in all kinds of ways we could never have imagined even one year ago. When the time to rebuild arrives, it will be exciting to take stock, as individuals and as a society, about what we've learned. We'll have the chance to remake the world better than it was before. For now, as we patiently await a vaccine, let's embrace the opportunities in the new and bizarre ways we have to connect with one another. Let's delve in deeply with those in our pod. Who knows what depths we might discover.
Have you discovered something surprising about your shelter buddies? Share it in the comments below. Help us all to remember that there are infinite depths to each of us, and now that we're sheltering in place, we have the time to be curious and generous with one another.