With more time than I need or want to just sit and think, as the isolation of physical distancing stretches on indefinitely, my mind repeatedly circles back to the things I miss most.
Here are 10 I didn’t value as much as I should have — because I never envisioned a world so completely without them.
I’ve now gone months without a hug. I haven’t shaken another person’s hand in the same amount of time. The absence of touch is visceral, as if it triggers a sense of withdrawal.
Going so long without touch compounds the feeling of isolation, loneliness and disconnectedness.
Touch provides both psychological and physical benefits. It generates feelings of affection, trust, safety and bonding, and can reduce our anxiety. For those enduring physical isolation alone, like me, this absence means not getting the soothing feeling of bonding or being comforted that a handshake or hug produces.
Without the emotional intimacy of touch, I feel cold, absent, cast off. It’s not something I can replace or reproduce on my own, and I feel a palpable loss because of it.
Refreshing the Senses
It’s not just touch that I miss. One of the symptoms of Covid-19 is losing a sense of taste and smell. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time paying attention to whether or not you can smell the food you’re cooking, and whether or not it tastes as you expect it too.
Narrowing my daily existence, walking the same loop around the neighborhood, rarely leaving the house, only driving to the grocery or drug store, has eliminated any variety of the things I see.
Looking at my apartment walls has gotten old. I miss exploring parks and nature preserves. I miss driving to new places and seeing things for the first time. I miss going out and hearing new bands, or seeing a new movie.
Like touch, all of our senses are deprived of the diversity that makes us feel so alive. The sounds of the city, the smells of parks, the sights of nature. This narrowing has constricted the experience of our daily lives.
Forget the curve, it’s my senses that feel flattened.
Only a week into isolation, my usual grocery store was out of broccoli. Lettuce and greens were gone, pasta was going fast and peanut butter was almost out.
Things have stabilized, and I can now get pretty much whatever I want. I never went hungry — and for that I am incredibly lucky.
Of all the things I’ve taken for granted, easy access to food is near the top of the list. If I didn’t feel like cooking, I could go to any restaurant in town and eat whatever kind of food I wanted.
We’re not out of the woods here. Meat, pork and chicken are seeing their supply chains disrupted. As more workers get sick, as more businesses stay closed, any kind of food production could be impacted.
As I continue to improve my cooking skills, I’ll remain extra grateful for the food I have and to which I have easy access. And I’ll to continue to give to my local food bank (see below) so that others will not go hungry.
It turns out food banks are pretty darn important (I’ve been donating regularly to the Central Texas Food Bank.) But it goes much further than that.
Schools do more than educate our kids and help them grow. They also give them a place to go so their parents can go to work.
I don’t need to state the importance of hospitals, but why weren’t we asking, before it was necessary, if our medical institutions had the supplies they needed?
Libraries are tremendous resources for so many people for so many things. Public transportation makes our cities accessible to everyone.
Even in normal times, our social support agencies are overworked and understaffed. It’s been noted how the pandemic has exposed the fissures in our existing systems. This is true, because so many of us were already struggling.
We create communal institutions and agencies because we live in and are part of a community. There is no escaping this pandemic and its effects. We are all links in a chain.
The pandemic is public health crisis. If there’s any good to come out of this, it’s to remind us we are all part of that public.
We can debate tax policy and funding priorities and bureaucratic, government efficiency all day long. What we shouldn’t debate is the need to take care of each other, because, as the pandemic shows all too painfully, what happens to one of us happens to all of us.
We need strong support systems to help our neighbors and ourselves. Just look at the lines at food banks. The need is there.
I can watch movies at home, I can tune in to live-streaming events and concerts, I can take virtual tours of the best museums of the world. But I can’t share any of those with other people.
The fun of experiencing sporting events isn’t just in the game itself, but in being there with a crowd, taking in the sights and sounds (there go the senses again) together.
The joy of a concert lies not only in the music, but in sharing the performance with a crowd. Imagine going to a play with you as the only person in the theater.
The art itself may be entertaining and inspiring, but I never fully appreciated how much live theater and music, even lectures, is something to be done and shared with other people, especially crowds.
Even if you attend any of these by yourself, without any companions, just being part of a crowd can make you feel as if you belong, that you are part of something, that you are, in other words, not alone.
I have no idea when we’ll be able to return to things like concerts, but they are one of the things I most miss.
Without live events and feeling part of something bigger than myself, it feels as if I’m just a machine, feeding myself and sleeping, every day, without any color or inspiration or shared experiences with others.
Art and Education
In our capitalist society, we are sometimes brainwashed that what matters most is business and making money. That art and education are nice, but not necessary.
We underfund our schools. We look at education as a means of producing future workers. When budgets are tight, art and music programs are often the first to go.
But now that we’re shut in, we need mind-expanding opportunities — and moments of inspiration — more than ever.
To look upon a beautiful piece of art (even online), to listen to music that moves us, distracts us, makes us dance or weep, to read a novel or poem that inspires us — these are the things that can make us feel human. As time melds, as days bleed, as we live each day much as we did the one before, art has the power to put us back in touch with our humanity.
We read and watch news that scares us, that makes our present, not to mention our future, seem uncertain and anxiety-ridden. What can take us away from our endless concern, grief, loss, sorrow and frustration is learning new things and consuming art.
We need to feel that we are not static, and can be taken to another place, if only in our hearts and minds. Art has the ability to do this.
But speaking of going to another place…do I ever miss travel. It’s not like my trips, averaging one every other month, were jaunts to exotic locales. They were usually trips for work or long weekends to visit family.
Physically transporting myself to a different location, even via the uncomfortable, annoying nuisance of flying, helped break up the monotony of my schedule. Trips gave me something to look forward to.
And what I found interesting about travel was the joy of returning. In addition to feeling, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get out of here for a few days,’ I also felt, ‘It sure feels good to be back.’
I definitely took for granted the ability to jump on a plane and go anywhere I want. It’s influenced the choice of where I live, which I now kind of regret, being so far away from my family and closest friends.
I don’t miss flying, but I do miss being able to get up and go, to get away, to lay my eyes on a different environment, to have, if however so small, a sense of adventure.
I’ve had good, long, enjoyable conversations via Facetime and Zoom with friends and various groups. But like many, I miss face-to-face interactions, even those with strangers. My favorite bartenders, the people who work at the coffee shop, the pharmacist and people who work the counter at the drug store. These people aren’t friends, but they are a part of my life.
Having those brief, sometimes even rote, mundane conversations can seem unnecessary. But they remind us of the people with whom we intersect in our lives. It reminds us there are stories beyond our own. That we live in a community filled with people doing things that are different from what we do.
Recognizing a familiar face, receiving and giving back a smile in return…those moments fill our days, and that’s one of the reasons our days feel so empty now.
It’s not like I’ve never been single before. I’ve gone long stretches of time without having sex.
And those were difficult, too. While solo sex can be pleasurable, its potential for pleasure is much lower than that of partnered sex, and it lacks intimacy.
Compounded by the lack of opportunity or even chance for partnered sex, then sharpened by the effects of long-term physical distancing and isolation, the absence of sex, like the absence of other kinds of communal activities, feels magnified.
I do remember, during times when coupled and the sex was good, appreciating that in the moment. In feeling the wonder and magic and joy of that. That is something to long for even without the repercussions of the pandemic, but much more now.
Engaging in solo sex while in isolation sometimes feels like a chore, a habit, a time-killer, often devoid of joy. There are times when I’ve just stopped, having lost interest in myself, not even wanting to pursue it.
Few things can make you feel alive, make you feel a pleasure so deep that it puts you in touch with your physical being, than partnered sex.
We’re surviving today more than we are truly living a life. Sex would go a long way in reversing that.
I can’t say I never appreciate friends before, because I did. But in times of crisis, they are more important than ever. Seeing their faces (even through a screen) or hearing their voices physically relaxes me. These conversations make me feel better, and knowing that I might have been able to do the same for my friends makes me feel better even still.
Friends (and family, too) are the ultimate reminder that we are not alone. That there are people who care. That we retain our ability to help others, that we play an important role.
I have seen calls from senior homes asking for pen pals. No matter our age, we all need connection. And even strangers can provide that, but friends all the more so.
Ultimately, what matters most are the people in our lives. We need them. They need us. We will never stop learning that lesson.
Previously Published on medium