Social distancing: Muddling through these days of isolation

Columnist Randal B. Thatcher


Social distancing: Muddling through

these days of isolation


By Randal B. Thatcher 



During these strangely surreal days of Social Distancing and Sheltering in Place (two newly-coined phrases that were not even part of our collective lexicon two months ago), we’ve all been doing our best to isolate ourselves from one another, thus keeping our individual germs and bacterium to ourselves.

And, while this certainly seems the socially responsible thing to be doing, it also feels like it’s all beginning to extract something of an emotional toll. Initially, it felt liberating: absolutely nothing on the calendar, and no reason to shave, or to wash my hair, or to put on anything besides sweatshirt and sweatpants—a veritable Peter Pan existence!

But, as days become weeks, and facial stubble blossoms into full-blown beard, I’ve begun to feel weirdly disconnected and a bit loose-at-ends.

Regular phone-calls and video-chats with friends and family have helped.

Frequent bike rides down Main Street have also helped, and waving frenetically at whomever might happen to be coming out of the post-office.

Daily strolls with my wife have also helped: getting ourselves out of the house to talk as we walk, about literally anything besides this damn Coronavirus!

It is also necessary for me—at least a couple times each week—to get myself up into our surrounding hills, to saunter meditatively among the sagebrush and juniper trees, sometimes sharing with them my frustrations and anxieties (since my wife grows increasingly weary of hearing them).

Such periods of self-imposed solitude can begin to feel monk-like, cloistered from the usual daily bustle of our typically busy world, to seek introspection; exchanging some far-flung vacation destination for an even more transportive journey into self.

Whenever I’ve found myself yearning for a quick end to all this social distancing, and a return to life as it was, I remind myself of a conversation, some years ago, with a work colleague…

He’d asked me, on the very day of my retirement party, what I planned to do with all that overabundance of discretionary time I would soon have on my hands. After a long pause, I said: “There are mountains to be climbed, books to be read, songs to be played, and stories to be written.”

I have never forgotten my very specific reply to that question; and I recognized that now, during this period of forced sequestration, while so many pleasant diversions and modern distractions are temporarily verboten, these four foundational pursuits are still eminently available to me on any given day.

So, yes, I have been hiking and snowshoeing in the nearby hills; been writing stories and playing songs on the banjo; and, finally, at long last, after intending to do so for years, I am actually reading, “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights,” (having just finished night 339 of Shahrazad’s long, self-preserving, nightly narrative).

I’ve also been ruminating upon the poetic admonition of the late Lowell Bennion, a wise and forward-thinking fellow, who happens to be a close relative of several of my Spring City neighbors.

His profound words are a prescient testimonial of those things that lend true contentment to our daily living; a reminder that seems timely during this pandemic period, while we’re being asked to sacrifice some of life’s more premium pleasures for the greater good.

So, while I confess to looking fondly forward to that day when my wife and I can once again indulge ourselves in live music concerts, and theater productions, and sporting events, and dining out, and large group gatherings; I will, in the meantime, recall these lines on each successive day of this concerted “social distancing,” and strive to find a contented bliss and a satisfied solitude in such simple pursuits:

Learn to like what doesn’t cost much.

Learn to like reading, conversation, music.

Learn to like plain food, plain service, plain cooking.

Learn to like fields, trees, brooks, hiking, rowing, climbing hills.

Learn to like to work and enjoy the satisfaction of doing your job as well as it can be done.

Learn to like the song of birds, the companionship of dogs.

Learn to like gardening, puttering around the house, and fixing things.

Learn to like the sunrise and sunset, the beating of rain on the roof and windows, and the gentle fall of snow on a winter day.

Learn to keep your wants simple, and refuse to be controlled by the likes and dislikes of others.

With fervent wishes for a speedy end to this crazy quarantine; and a fond hope that we might all have learned a little something in the interim.