We need other people’s physical presence, in part because much of the assuring information we exchange is through non-verbal communication, and in part because we need physical contact – a handshake, a slap on the back, a hug.
By nature I am a recluse, someone who seldom seeks the company of other people. I’m not antisocial, not an introvert, and certainly not shy, I just prefer solitude – most of the time.
These nine months of forced isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, have given me reason to doubt my hermit’s attitude about socializing with friends and acquaintances. I enjoy my time alone, but I am unsettled by my separation from others. I struggle to understand this unexpected but unmistakable dichotomy. A curmudgeon like me can contentedly hole up on the farm for days, even weeks. But eight months is an unbearably long time in seclusion.
Reluctant as I am to admit it, we need personal connections – associations and interactions with other people – to remain emotionally and mentally healthy. Denied those relationships for an extended period, we are apt to engage in weird behaviors. Mowing the lawn in the heart of a drought, reorganizing (for the third time) the tools in the workshop, watching too many television programs, carrying on lengthy conversations with our dogs, writing incoherent and rambling blog essays…
We become disoriented and insecure when we are deprived of human contact for weeks and months at a time. For some it may be longer, for others it may be much shorter. It is a neurosis that can eventually erupt in full-blown psychotic episodes. Each day I scan the news and discover that someone, somewhere, has acted out in some irrational and often violent way, behaviors brewed in the pressure cooker of extended seclusion.
Here is my take on this madness-inducing isolation: we need other people to witness our lives, to validate and endorse our lives. We need almost daily reassurance that we are good and capable people doing useful and beneficial things.
A supportive and encouraging telephone call, text message, email, or tweet is simply not enough. We need other people’s physical presence, in part because much of the assuring information we exchange is through non-verbal communication, and in part because we need physical contact – a handshake, a slap on the back, a hug. And all those expressions of empathy and compassion are strictly forbidden (for valid health safety precautions) in this time of potentially deadly pandemic.
By good fortune, the Over The Hill Gang has been meeting once each month, a gathering we call a Coots-Together. Sometimes as few as four, sometimes as many as eight of us Coots are able to gather at one of our homes, each bringing a dish for supper, enjoying a couple of beers, and most of all sharing the camaraderie that keeps us connected and sane. Well, relatively sane.
Weather permitting, we sit outside by a campfire. The familiarity of the hunting camp venue eases my mind, allows me to believe that there are many kindred spirits in these months of anxiety and worry, and serves as a temporary substitute for the handshake, the pat on the back, the hug. Laughter is a powerful antidote to the many calamities of this frightening year, and we share a lot of laughter about the misadventures of our past escapades, hoped-for adventures in the future, and the mad and twisted events we read about and observe going on all around us.
The food is good, too. Probably because most of it is prepared by our equally long-suffering wives.
Then I plunge back into insolation, but with some optimism that it will eventually end and life will resume its usual routines. Until then, writing incoherent and rambling blog essays is a socially acceptable pressure release.
More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays and three novels, available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page
The Coots-Together in its beginning, before the pandemic, provided me with the social contact I had neglected for a long time. I enjoyed your writing and I enjoy the time with the Over-The-Hill gang in the same way you share here. Thanks Jerry.
It is difficult, even foolish, to deny that humans are a social animal and that this necessity of isolation is detrimental to the spirit. Luckily, a very large majority of us are not truly alone, having a spouse, partner, even children and grandchildren to commune with; our own clan. As someone who truly lives alone, I thought the pending isolation would be a cake walk for me; I was accustomed to it. I wasn’t prepared for the loss of truly socializing with others, for the emptiness brought on by the lack of freely going out for coffee, breakfast, lunch. If anyone should walk by and hear me talking, as it might seem, to no one (it’s not entirely true), I simply miss the simple music of the human voice…even if it is my own.
Bob – a difficult and anxious time, this pandemic. We can only hope “This too shall pass.”