“We’re afraid to be alone,
everybody got to have a home.
Isolation.” —John Lennon
Side one of “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was on the turntable with the stylus tracking the fifth song, “Isolation”. I’m not sure why I had decided to play the album on a rainy day. The record is one I typically avoid because it’s so dark and overly introspective. “Isolation”, in particular, is blatant wailing for the writer to be heard.
I allowed the turntable to trace the track, then returned the record to its paper sleeve and the album jacket. The song drained me of desire to hear any more of the album or any other music, so I switched off the stereo.
I settled into a chair and turned my attention to the living room’s west window. It was one of those days that begins overcast and rainy; develops a non-severe thunderstorm; and mellows into steady rain the rest of the time.
During days like that I feel most introverted yet restless. A flash of lightning brightened the sky. I pressed the top pusher button to start the chronograph; then stopped the hand when the thunder rumbled. The tachymetre scale showed that the lightning strike had been a couple of miles away. I reset the chronograph. I imagined that if dad was alive and with me, we would have done this together.
I had set the concept of isolation aside during the pandemic because an effective vaccine against the virus appears to be a hope for the future. Social distancing will be a personal reality for longer than I had anticipated.
Humans have evolved to live in relationships. A person can escape to her apartment in the city. A lama can withdraw into the Himalayas on solo retreat. An adventurer can wander the countryside alone. I can stay home because of Covid-19.
There is no escape from the absolute fact that all of us are related to each other as members of the same species. The authentic fact is that we do not exist in total isolation. Everything we consume is due to human intervention. For instance, the label on my easy-chair’s cushion states that the piece of furniture was manufactured in Canada. This implies that there was or is a factory in one of the Canadian provinces where people assembled furniture. This knowledge somehow makes me feel more connected.
“If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.”–Paul Cezanne
Social distancing has been compared to a physical workout in a gym. The longer a person can endure it the stronger a person can mentally become. The trick is in how a person views the experience. Instead of seeing it as a form of torture, we can define it as solitude. Solitude is not a prison; solitude is a place of refuge. If one develops enough inner resources through the solitude of social distancing, then a person can live in isolation for a long time and feel enriched by it.
A person can acclimate oneself to a fair amount of isolation with few if any friends nearby. Of course there is plenty of entertainment in our technological civilization. However, we can shut off the devices for awhile to daydream or meditate. A person can indulge in creative activities. Or you can sit near the window and observe the goings-on about the weather and realize that you are never truly isolated.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes animator, cartoonist, and writer, Matt Groening. “With Charlie Brown, it was about loneliness and isolation. I always thought that the thing about Charlie Brown and those characters was the absence of the parents. Half the strip was about who wasn’t there. The parents were never in the picture.”