Saturday column: How to put up with forced isolation

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Last week, at a Sunday breakfast with a friend, we talked, as usual, about everything in the world, interrupting just for “another cup of coffee, please.” She told me about her new acquaintance, who caused her admiration for how harmoniously created and organized “her” space around herself. You know, this type of people who seem to surround themselves solely with what they like and suits. They can be ascetic or vice versa – exude contentment and hedonism. But they are precisely surrounded by all that they need, and are not overloaded with anything superfluous. Such houses always have a favorite drink, a good started book, and something else to do. A friend said that she could easily imagine how this man did not leave the house for a month, without needing anyone and no socialization in order to feel good. We discussed whether women are more dependent on socialization or not. This was associated with gender roles, with the strength of internal and external reference, with the neurotic and schizoid type of personality. They recalled Bjork and Lennon. We reasoned about our own needs for socialization and came to the conclusion that we feel great in our dens. We each went our own way, and I already hatched a text on this topic in my head, but he was never destined to be born.

I planned to finish the text on Wednesday, and on Thursday fly to Europe, where they were waiting for me, where I really wanted to be. As early as Wednesday morning, I was preparing to pack my things and handed my friend the keys to the apartment – to water the flowers and walk the dog. And in the evening we phoned via video and canceled the flight. He stays in Europe, I stay here. The prospect of staying in its den for a long time turned out to be more than real, and our Sunday breakfast with a friend acquired a touch of sharp irony.

In quarantine, everyone does the best they can: they wash their hands, cough in their elbows and consult a doctor at the first sign of illness. We do not shake hands when greeting, we do not hug, do not kiss on the cheek, we keep at least a meter away. Social distancing is the main rule of any European today. In the cafe and in the hotel lobby you will not be seated at one table or even close to a stranger, you will not keep the door waiting for an elderly lady leaving the store, you will politely step back. In the 20th century, the American psychotherapist Virginia Satir presented the theory that a person needs 8 hugs a day to feel good. Today’s scholars say that a person needs to move 1 meter away from him to feel good.

I don’t feel panic, I don’t run to buy everything at the supermarket, I don’t read all the news of the world, I just lie on my back and stare at the ceiling. Today my den is flooded with sun, the windows are open and I hear the sounds of a quiet street. I’m trying to imagine that a month, two, three will pass this way. Claustrophobia is getting too real. What were we talking about with a friend on Sunday? That each of us can be absolutely happy without any social contacts. We talked about how we love to read books, how to turn on your music perfectly and to cook slowly, how to choose any movie calmly: from shamefully stupid to mournfully intelligent – and just watch without discussing with anyone.

How you can spend hours exploring the emerging bulbous on the balcony and the new shoots of aloe on the windowsill. How nice to put things in order, unload shelves and organize storage rooms. How can I sit down for a letter in the morning and come off in the evening, terribly hungry, to finally cook something for myself. Or draw, sew, hammer in nails and outweigh the pictures. Finally, take apart the bag of old photos and distribute them in albums. All this is very pleasant, and it is not scary. Stay home.

Terrified by compulsion, not isolation. The lack of hugs and touches is frightening – and that means our “I” as well. Nobody is looking at me, nobody is touching me, do I still exist?

Life abruptly slows down, unless you are in line at the supermarket. We do not travel long distances, prefer to walk, do not quickly buy another trifle, wash my hands for a long time and talk on the phone. As if the planet itself in such a tough way asks us to finally slow down.

We are changing our habits and norms of social behavior, we are on guard. Some of us are waiting for panic and chaos, but more and more we will learn about simple acts of humanism. Online businesses that give out free subscriptions, instead of raising prices and making good money from bored homes; Airlines transferring flight dates for free; strangers buying groceries for elderly neighbors; Siena residents singing to each other at night, leaning out of the windows: “Long live Siena, the most beautiful city!” How much more we will see these beautiful gestures, our new hugs without touch.

No matter what happens, it’s important for people to respect humanity, part of which is the ability to buy coffee in their favorite coffee shop and, smelling fresh pastries, be tempted by a queen-aman or a cinnamon roll. Suppose this time the cafe is empty and the visitor takes everything with him, and does not sit at his favorite table, but it is important that this table is there, so that we still light candles and plant flowers.

As my existential coaching coach says, spring is the most existential time of the year. Spring, not autumn, because it is in the spring that life and death manifest itself. Only in spring will the gardener know if the tree survived the winter. My rosemary bush is still dry, but the olive threw three young green shoots. Lives, then. As we are.

Read also: Saturday column: Is it possible to maintain love for another person when you suffer yourself

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