Last night at dinner we had a family conversation about how to structure these upcoming days and weeks ahead. Over the weekend we'd all been contemplating the variety of activities that would be important to include in each day. I think this social isolation has been the most challenging for my fifteen-year-old daughter. Not seeing friends and being limited so extremely is antithetical to what it means to be an adolescent. This is her time. Her friends (not her parents) are her people. As we reviewed what activities to include each day my partner Nancy, looking at Lucia's downtrodden eyes, said, "Alone time. It will be important for each of us to have some alone time every day."
I'm so sad about how this unprecedented time in our history is affecting everyone, but my heart hurts most for my daughter and her peers. This is a hard time to be a teenager. Last night I woke up at 3am filled with angst. I usually sleep soundly through the night, and if I wake up I go right back to sleep but last night I got stuck in my grief. Lucia, already craving some space and alone time was sleeping two floors down in our basement guest room. Her empty bed in the room across the hall was a stark reminder of how this global crisis is hitting my daughter.
These days, this time of voluntary isolation for the greater human good, is forcing us into being alone-- alone together but also alone with ourselves, a space many of us don't take or make room for on a daily basis. My favorite poet, David Whyte, in an essay called Alone in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, writes "To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others. Alone, we live in our bodies as a question rather than a statement."
Last night when I was awake I felt this aloneness, even with Nancy asleep right next to me and Lucia safe and sound downstairs. I felt an extreme vulnerability, like I was free-falling into the fear of these unknown times. It really is like living in 'a question,' this absence of knowing what's next. Further on in the same essay Whyte writes, "Aloneness begins in puzzlement at our own reflection, transits through awkwardness and even ugliness at what we see, and culminates, one appointed hour or day, in a beautiful unlooked for surprise, at the new complexion beginning to form, the slow knitting together of an inner life, now exposed to air and light."
This unknowing is scary for all of us and it affects the young and old in different ways, but Whyte's words give me comfort. There is a deeper place, maybe even a surprise beyond and within this alone-ness. Today is my family's first day trying out our new schedules. We'll each work on piecing together a puzzle of normalcy in this inconceivable new reality. We're all in this together. And Alone.