Call it isolation, self-quarantine, or social distancing—these words may not matter much to us on normal days. But in the midst of a pandemic, like the coronavirus outbreak we are experiencing right now, these words carry a lot of weight to keep people from exposing themselves to the disease. Actually, it’s just to slow down the spread of the disease and not stop it entirely on its way. The real work in fighting this COVID-19 pandemic requires finding the infected persons, tracking down who they are in contact with and isolating each of them.
The governments of these countries that were severely affected by this coronavirus pandemic have imposed total lockdowns in some of their cities, provinces, and communities. There was panic buying. There was hoarding. While it may be a normal reaction for most people facing a crisis, the downside of this is that, especially when it leads them to buy more than they need or in large quantities, it becomes a selfish act that leaves other people with little or nothing to buy at all.
These total lockdowns may not be what we want at this time, but we have to. After all, this is only temporary. This is only until we were able to successfully flatten the curve, so to speak, of this pandemic. This is the time when we have to carry everything inside and continue with what we have started or with what we are working on in the comforts (not the inconveniences) of our homes.
Although these lockdowns can have negative repercussions on the economies of all the countries involved, the good thing is that, in addition to preventing a further spread of the disease, it allows us to buy the necessary time until the vaccine arrives. We can read on the news that it could take at least a year or so for the vaccine to be available to everyone. We fear that this may also adversely affect our long-term mental, psychological and emotional well-being, as we are naturally social creatures and that this sudden change in habit may be too aggressive, which may only contribute to making matters worse.
But this is not just isolation. There are some people who can make better use of this lockdown, and this social distancing imposed on them. They can see it in a different light. And they give it a much better, acceptable name: solitude.
Solitude is, if we try to see it their way, about being alone, but not lonely. It can make us aware of ourselves. It can make us reflect, pray, and connect with a Supreme Being. It can make us productive and creative. Most importantly, it can help us better understand of what’s going on around us and find ways to deal with it.
Isolation, on the other hand, can be seen as a punishment. It can separate us from the rest of the world, and even from ourselves. It can make us feel like we are deserted or abandoned and no one’s going to help us anyway.
Nineteenth-century American transcendentalist, poet, essayist, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, in one of his most important works, Walden, written when he lived for two years and two months of semi-isolation by Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, was able to provide us with a model of his controversial perspective on society that we can still apply even in today’s world. For him, solitude is not about loneliness or isolation, but about what can lead us to self-communion and introspection:
Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon—to behold and commune with something grander than man. Their mere distance and unprofanedness is an infinite encouragement. It is with infinite yearning and aspiration that I seek solitude, more and more resolved and strong; but with a certain weakness that I seek society ever.
In the midst of a pandemic, when everyone’s confined to their respective homes (except for the brave healthcare workers and all the people serving in the frontlines to contain this disease), leaving the streets almost empty and the city like a ghost town, we can take Thoreaus’s words with a grain of salt. But then, as the days, weeks, and months go by, we will slowly realize that we really need this certain degree of quiet as we take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We will realize that we have the ability to endure this isolation process in the same way that we can overcome this fear of coronavirus pandemic.
When all this waiting is over, we can go out into the outside world feeling renewed. It will be the same ordinary days, and there is much work to be done. We can also participate in the healing process by choosing love over fear. It is through love that we can gain a lot of confidence and security as we try to build or create new opportunities from unexpected events.
Our fear of the unknown, our fear of the future, and our fear of this coronavirus pandemic, in particular, has a purpose. It’s a call to love. When we overcome our feelings of fear with feelings of love, that’s where the healing begins.