Close Encounters with the Selves You Meet in Quarantine
I bet I’ve checked the weather more in the last month than I have in my whole life.*
I’ve known since last Thursday that today was going to be the coldest day this month. I’ve been dreading it for days. And now I know that starting tomorrow, we’ll be home free. From here, it’s straight on ‘till summer.
To celebrate, I yelled “Goodbye Cold Day!” on the sidewalk this afternoon, standing on an empty street between two tall buildings. I’m sure nobody heard me.
It was just a quick call to say, “I’m still here.” The kind of exclamation that lets the vast void of uncertainty all around us know that, well, I don’t plan to go quietly, at least.
It felt good to hear the echo too, because even when there’s no one and nothing around but emptiness and unfamiliar landscape, it’s comforting to hear a voice, even if it’s your own voice, only quieter. Maybe it’s comforting because you can trick yourself into thinking it’s someone else, maybe you’re just hacking the lizard part of your brain with acoustics.
Or maybe we wait for the echo to learn something, subconsciously, about the mysterious world around us. Maybe the texture of the sound, the fuzzy and sharp edges, the subtlest shifts in tenor and pitch, maybe there’s some forgotten part of us that can still interpret that lexicon.
Maybe it’s when the things around us are the most unfamiliar and unexpected, that the most unfamiliar and unexpected parts of ourselves come forward to meet it.
(Humans, it turns out, can learn to echolocate. But normally, the brain suppresses the sounds of echos to make sounds more clear. If we didn’t, says neuroscientist Lori Thaler told LIVESCIENCE, “speech would be virtually unintelligible.”)
I never really understood people; smart, interesting, disciplined people, who sit at the same desk every day to write, or eat the same thing for breakfast for forty years, or have never traveled more than 100 miles from where they were born. There’s an entire world of places to write, breakfast options, places to see — how could anyone reasonably be happy with just one?
But for the last several weeks, lives everywhere have settled in to just that kind of dreary monotony.
And yet, I found myself sitting down at my table the other Saturday, and I was there for an hour writing before I realized that it was the weekend, that I was free to do whatever else I wanted, wherever I wanted to do it. But a not unhappy part of me was right where I wanted to be. Somehow there had been one of those monotony-loving desk-sitters lying in wait inside me for their chance in the driver seat, and goodness, she’s having the time of her life.
Maybe this is a type of Stockholm Syndrome, a way to explain contentment found in an unideal situation. Or maybe we are also infinitely more complex than we realize. Maybe we are simultaneously several people at once.
Maybe we’ve simultaneously been several people at once all this time.
That, at least, would explain the unsolvable jumble of emotions I’ve been feeling. The unexpected moments of peace and happiness are the joy of a me that’s finally found the small, quiet life she’s always wanted. The pain is the property of an adventurous me that’s now locked away from the explorable world. The guilt is doubled, as they both have become fully aware of the cost of their own happiness.
But there’s something about the weather that feels like neutral territory. There is nothing more pedestrian than checking the weather, swiping along the ten-day forecast in search of the holy combination of two high numbers. But at the same time, the weather is unpredictable and dynamic — you bundle in a coat and hat for the coldest day of the month, only to find out that on your block at least, the coldest day comes with a bright sun and a warm breeze. I’m learning that the monotony of living is more adventuresome than I had ever given it credit for.
How small my world has become has made each part of it more magical, and maybe being able to find the excitement in the mundane is self-compassion, a way for my conflicting selves to try and do right by one another. And for another self altogether, what a bizarre feeling of consternation there is to learning whole new depths of being human, the humility of realizing how little I know about myself.
So I’ll wake up tomorrow, and check the weather first thing. And I’ll pause a moment and see how it feels.
*Might be a slight exaggeration.
I usually write about food, agriculture, and rural issues. But now is not usual.