Alone Together

I realize we are all in this together, but at times I feel WE are alone!

So much is happening these days. Every individual life is affected by things beyond their control. A lot of it is happening to us. It’s up to us how we take these happenings in, how we digest them, how we understand them, and then how we react outwardly. I think it is important to be honest with ourselves about our feelings, first and foremost. I also think that we should be open to understanding how others are processing all of this. So many variances! What does this mean? How do we handle our differences? I don’t know the answer to any of these! I just know how I feel – Karthik and I are alone.

Everything Cancelled

The first thought that comes to mind is our early decision to take the Covid reality seriously. The moment we found ourselves discussing whether we should both take our laptops to Florida for our vacation in case we face a lockdown, we knew we had to cancel the trip! Luckily not many others had taken such a decision and so all the hotels and airlines refunded our uninsured bookings. Mind you, we were mocked by some – first inklings of being alone in all this. Karthik’s boss didn’t understand why he didn’t feel comfortable coming in to work. Frankly her dismissive words didn’t matter. We had read enough to know where we stood. No one could shake our decision of keeping ourselves safe by preparing for what was likely coming our way and staying in. Hindsight, twenty twenty!

Then came the time to prepare. Costco run was tiring, crazy, but necessary. Planning with close family provided structure. We were the ones who would remain outside-touch-points. Our parents would stay in and not interact with anyone. Processes were established. We were ready. We had to start being okay with being alone.

Soon cities started to shut down. News from Italy started to pour in. Devastation was overwhelming. It was all coming here soon no matter how much some thought it wouldn’t and that this was not real. Sickness. Death. Fear. Panic. Sadness. Everywhere.

Differing views started to emerge even among folks we knew. Some were not concerned while others felt quite vulnerable. Some blamed conspiracy theories, while others reacted to facts on the ground. Some genuinely reciprocated our concern for them, others didn’t even ask how we were doing after carrying on about themselves (on multiple occasions; I have text proof!)

I experienced two long and scary bouts of fevers. Panic attacks became a little too familiar. Fear increased as my parents became more comfortable having friends over for socially distant visits on their driveway. Kaelen’s persistent cough seemed to drag on for much too long. I kept awake some nights listening to him and Karthik breathe. Planning every outing to the very last detail to ensure Karthik or I kept safe became my job. Ensuring Karthik doesn’t get lazy about following protocols was always on my mind. My position that anything can happen to anyone was really taking a toll on me. I felt alone even within the family.

At home together

Children became the next source of contention for folks our age. Home schooling. Lack of guidance from schools. Technology hiccups. We however were quite lucky in this regard. Privilege oozing out of our every pore. Multiple electronic devices allowing us to conveniently stay connected, multiple rooms and floors for privacy, only one independent child to take care of, private school that actually cares, teacher that loves these children, work flexibility so we can co-teach! To boot, we are used to spending a lot of time with each other and generally like it. Super lucky. Extremely privileged. Very grateful. This was not the case for all others we know. Some parents with multiple children were quite overwhelmed with juggling work-from-home, having to work outside of home, kids’ needs, their needs, finances, schedules, privacy, single parenting, etc. Some don’t like hanging out with their kids. Others don’t like spending that much time with their spouses. These are hard truths that many have had to face. It has been tough on many.

Somehow people have found a groove. We have. We know when our Instacart order is to arrive and how to plan for a most efficient disinfection process. Our garage has a quarantine section for non perishables. We are lucky to even have a garage! We have been able to provide all craft materials for Kaelen’s various projects thanks to Amazon Prime, Staples’ pick-up, planning quarantine time. Kaelen doesn’t even ask for more LEGOs or video chats. He’s found a natural rhythm with us and what we have.

And then things became worse. Everything shook. George Floyd’s gruesome murder stretched across 8+ minutes was shown on TV. It made me sick. It really hit me hard. Injustice. That’s my Achilles’ heel. A few days later my aunt (who was like a mother to me) passed away. I broke. I crumbled. Nothing mattered except spending time with my parents. They were the only ones who could understand my pain. I sat in their backyard, socially distancing, being in their presence through this mourning. I realized the emptiness of life when it is not filled with truth and love. In the end, it’s the love that we remember. It is only those we loved we truly mourn.

After that is what all changed for me. Things became clear. I started to see what people mean to me from a different lens. From a clearer one. And it wasn’t all good.

  1. One of my closest friends hasn’t made the time to talk to me in three weeks (this includes the time after I told her how broken I feel since my aunt passed).
  2. Another friend was even willing to risk bringing Covid back home to her family by attending a local BLM march to walk with me, to stand in solidarity with me and use her white privilege which she knows comes with much responsibility! They have an immunocompromised child.
  3. Another “friend” has only reached out personally to place an order for shampoo bars! Still not a single “how are you?” since the pandemic even after sharing their own long status updates via text in response to us asking them about their well being.
  4. One of my other closest friends is extremely comfortable with this self isolation; maybe a bit too much!
  5. My cousin’s wife amazing me with her strength, giving birth to their second son during the pandemic.
  6. Another “friend”, within a group chat of three, simply “read” but ignored when the other friend conveyed condolences. She didn’t acknowledge the fact that my aunt passed but found it fine to comment and laugh at jokes in Whatsapp conversations following that.
  7. A friend connecting with me over our individual mourning (hers and mine) within the context of our shared philosophical exposure to a life cycle from an anthroposophical course we took together.
  8. Some friends being highly impressed by Trump’s ability to solve the Covid crises and ashamed at Trudeau’s weak leadership.
  9. Another “friend” claims she didn’t realize from my FB post where I state my aunt passed that my aunt had actually passed. Also her reaction – “oh poo”! I’m not kidding, and have also not responded to her.
  10. Our friends being completely candid with how difficult this is for them without fearing judgment. I’m sure they’ve helped quite a few people feel less alone.
  11. A white neighbour who is quite unimpressed by the protests trampling over her sacrifice of staying in for thirteen weeks. According to her the protests should be delayed to take place at a “better time”. She is also unwilling to have a conversation so she may see the other perspective.
  12. Other white folks we know have not uttered a word about BLM in their otherwise super involved social media existence. Silence. White privilege silence.
  13. Our friends who think all of this as a ploy for establishment of a one-world-government.
  14. Our favourite family friends who have been there to support and be supported, have also cried through these times for humanity, have shared and let us share, made signs and held their own socially distant protest, respected our decision to protect Kaelen from the reality of BLM movement even though it’s different from theirs (even the children have respected it).
  15. Us and our family. Putting all this in perspective. Looking at our lives. Learning. Changing. Where we have come from. Our experiences with fear and oppression. Our privileges.

Such varied responses. Such varied experiences. Some that remind me to act out of love. Some that teach me so that I may change for the better. Others leave me feeling used, jaded, and alone. Relationships are going to change after all this. Permanently. We’ve all had to face our demons and others’ as well. We’ve had the chance to see who truly is our family. Who truly matters. Who we truly matter to. In the end all that will matter to us is what is surrounded by love. Even if it means we are alone within our cocoon.

I have felt alone living in this super white neighbourhood in London. I have felt alone when realizing folk who are so very privileged like us, don’t see their privilege and don’t appreciate it. They quib about the most mundane things. Living this isolated life with so many tumultuous emotions has been tough, even for us. Hopelessness has been an underlying emotion. Feeling alone because of the colour of my skin has been a reality ever since we moved to Canada. Living in this city for the past six years where a lot of folk seem so isolated from the world by choice has felt uncomfortable. It’s been lonely.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

But then, two evenings ago when I stepped out to our small backyard to water our trees and vegetable plants I heard a sound that brought an overwhelming feeling of peace and joy. Our neighbours backing to us diagonally were in their backyard hanging out. We have never met them. There was low, what seemed like music from the ‘70s or the ‘80s playing. Vietnamese music. The extended family was talking to each other also in Vietnamese. There were some lulls and some highs in their conversations. Some laughter. Some monotone talk. Some sound of plates clanking. Delicious aromas of their dinner. People coming in and out of the house as the patio door opened and closed. Life. Simple, everyday life. A family also from a different part of the world living here. They too must have many varied experiences in their bag. Somehow my heart cried with joy and brought warmth to my soul. I’ll try to hold on to this feeling. It’s better than the others.

I am left wondering why this moment brought me such positive feelings. Perhaps it brought me back to feelings of joy when we travel. Perhaps to the feeling of multiculturalism growing up in Scarborough. Perhaps it was their music or the delicious aromas of their food. Something made me feel at home, other than being in my own backyard. A hopeful reminder that the world is massive even though it feels so small at this time. People persevere and have been all over the world in their own ways, through their own tragedies. We have seen that in Bolivia watching people carry loads on their backs or heads up steep roads. We have seen that Brazil in the small town of Corumba where they were still using broken and old typewriters. The technological advances we experienced in Korea and Japan were jaw dropping. Life was good and simple on the train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta seeing families traveling together. Never mind the perseverance of the Cambodian people after all they have suffered; they were so kind to us. The little Indian boy on the road side in Calcutta, I wonder what he is up to. Watching him stand in a muddy, deep puddle broke my heart but I’m hopeful he’s grown to be strong and handsome. People persevere through brutalities all over the world, and humanity can be beautiful too throughout it. There’s oppression. There’s selfishness. There’s racism and genocides. Through all these differences the simplicity of life, the need for love and family, the peace felt through music and food is what binds us. That moment in my backyard reminded me that though we’re indeed alone, we are still part of this gigantic whole world which seems so small and linear at this time, but it’s actually not. It’s dynamic. It’s full of colour. It’s full of beauty. Of humanity. People and experiences in our immediate circle have made me feel alone (with a few exceptions), but I think the world at large reminds me that I’m not. We’re not. I’ll keep that in mind.

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