From the time the pandemic locked us down in mid-March 2020 until the present, there has been an endless flow of well-intentioned advice by experts about how to live with isolation and not languish:

  • Do whatever you can to connect with people. Zoom. Write. Telephone. Email.
  • Create/sustain meaningful group connections: church groups, book club, children, grandchildren, friends, siblings.
  • Read.
  • Grieve your losses, no matter how small.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Listen to music: dance, sing, and write with it.
  • Find joy in everyday routines.
  • Engage with nature.

Now that we are, cautiously, beginning to emerge from the isolation, COVID has clarified my priorities. I find that there are ways of being, from among these and a myriad of other suggestions, that I wish to maintain.

The thrill of seeing a friend’s or loved one’s unmasked face, and observing their body language, leads me to a sense of warmth and engagement I have truly missed. Technology is a valuable tool in many contexts, but it is not a replacement for human contact. Social interaction is a sensory experience that enables our brains and bodies to feel safe, comfortable, and to explore authentic relationships. I intend to appreciate that with every human encounter.

Books can become a salvation. The luxury of time to read books was a gift that has led me to more deeply consider their importance in my life. I value being with a book; it is not a passive activity. I consider its weight, the paper’s texture, the beauty of the illustrations. I can curl up with it, escape through it, be consoled by it.

We missed the high school graduations of both of our grandsons and our granddaughter’s performance in her high school play. We postponed travel. A special event to celebrate my husband’s 80th birthday with friends and family was canceled. However, now that we can see our children and grandchildren, engagement has been more deeply satisfying and celebratory. We relish more the ability to see a live play and attend the symphony in person.

While I am usually one who desires to optimize every hour, I have discovered during this period of isolation that life is richer if I routinely meditate, go outside to observe nature, wake up with no plans for the day.

We monthly Zoom with friends from our days at Northwestern, over 50 years ago. The group members reside all over the country. We now communicate more often and more meaningfully than we would when traveling with one another every year or so before the pandemic. We plan and then actively explore, learn about, and discuss a chosen topic, teaching one another at our next meeting.

I have maintained a journal since fifth grade. My journals served as diaries in my younger years; as I matured, they were a place to record and reflect upon my inner thoughts and feelings. Journaling has become a resource to clarify my decisions, to ascertain patterns of my behavior, and to discover how my thinking has evolved over time. During the pandemic, I have paid more attention to my anxieties and have imagined ways to remain resilient. I now write about my experience with the pandemic, creating a history of what aspects of my life are changing because of it.

In reviewing my journal entries I have discovered that I am more willing to accept not being in control of many aspects of my life. Living with the pandemic over the past two years I have adapted to the unknown future, accepted the possibility of more variants to come, learned to embrace solitude, practiced better listening, invented coping statements, engaged in new hobbies, acknowledged the importance of my inner life, and found meaning in the midst of loss.

Today, I am unwilling to postpone the experiences in my life that I love the most. I am maintaining a routine, staying active in a natural space. And I am nurturing a network of family and friends through love and attention. The past two years have taught me how better to accept uncertainty while living my life.

Julie Stoffels
Member, UU Asheville Board of Trustees