Alone Together: A Reflection on Life in Quarantine

It’s the weirdest feeling, talking to five people over a Zoom call, playing video games in a room all by yourself. The only things your walls hear are your own words. The only thing your parents hear is a single side of your conversations. To an outsider, the scene is absolutely lonely – and sometimes, it feels lonely too.

And yet, I have never felt more connected to my friends than I do when I’m missing them dearly and actively setting up phone calls to talk to them. I feel warmth at the sound of their voices, connection at the repetition of the same, stupid inside jokes. These are the friends I want to know, even after I graduate college – and I think they want to know me too. It’s a cocktail of emotions I’m not familiar with, but one I’m slowly growing accustomed to.

Quarantine is an interesting time.

On one hand: all the special things that make college, college – our organizations, our community, our sense of independence – have practically vanished in a blur. On the other: here we are, alone with our thoughts, with our families, or with an empty campus. Here we are, with the opportunity to do things like focus on classes, or even catch up on the things we’ve always wanted to do by ourselves. Writing was one of those things for me.

Our emotions are complicated, and we often can’t make the best of our situation until we acknowledge that they exist. A recent article from Harvard Business Review pegs the complex wad of emotions many are currently feeling as grief.

Grief? I was surprised to hear that.

After all, isn’t grief what you feel when someone close to you passes away? Isn’t grief reserved for the catastrophic, the life altering? Isn’t grief for… something else? For most of us, who are at best financially impacted by COVID-19, grief isn’t the obvious way to label how we feel.

And yet, it fits. The complexity –  the wandering between anger, depression, hopefulness, acceptance, in uneven and meandering steps – is similar. Many came into this semester with ideas about how we can make it out (hopefully, in a better place). But now, amid this confusion, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

In an excellent AColyte issue on Exile, John Williams emphasizes, “We need to find who we are, where we are.” It’s a message of growth, a message to look forward, to embrace progress in whatever place we can, even if it’s less than ideal. We can’t turn back the clock, close our eyes, or even argue the virus away.

The world expects us to accept the unfortunate situation of where we are and keep walking – for good reason. Don’t cry over spilled milk – a parent’s told you that one before. There’s a lot to be said for avoiding self-pity.

But there’s also something to be said for grieving. 

In my culture, Hinduism, the death of a loved one results in 13 days of mourning, for their children and particularly close friends and family. 13 days of privacy, 13 days of giving up luxury, 13 days of sorting out just what has happened.

But it’s also more than that.

There’s the tradition to feed those who come to give condolences, to feed whoever visits your home to give their condolences. It’s a tradition of giving, as well as one of solitude.

I like to think that this can be translated to the smaller grief we’re feeling right now. Giving time to others – maybe helping mom clean the house, or helping a friend with homework – is an excellent way to ground ourselves a little more. It’s an excellent way to feel a bit more useful in a time of emotional turmoil. I don’t know if it’ll “cure” us, but maybe it’s a starting point.

At the very least, maybe we should take a moment to look at how we’re feeling, for once, rather than just what we’re doing.

So here we are, 4 weeks into quarantine, 4 weeks from the summer. 

Here we are, connected to others through Zoom and emails and the steady background of the other living bodies in your home. 

Here we are, alone.