“A number of years ago I had some experience with being alone. For two succeeding years I was alone each winter for eight months at a stretch in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Lake Tahoe. I was the caretaker on a summer estate during the winter months when it was snowed in. And I made some observations then. As time went on I found that my reactions thickened. Ordinarily I am a whistler. I stopped whistling. I stopped conversing with my dogs, and I believe that the subtleties of feeling began to disappear until finally I was on a pleasure-pain basis. Then it occurred to me that the delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication they tend to disappear. A man with nothing to say has no words. Can its reverse be true- a man who has no one to say anything to has no words as he has no need for words? … Only through imitation do we develop toward originality.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
I’ve got one of those rear seat reminders in my vehicle. Each time the back door is opened it triggers a warning when I stop the vehicle to check the back seat. For me, it’s usually stuff from the grocery store or my school case. I don’t have any quiet children in my life who might be forgotten in the backseat. But this safety precaution is a great idea!
This has got me thinking about other reminders in my life – or lack of reminders. I used to have someone living with me who would remind me how to drive. Have you got one of those? You don’t know how important this feature is until it’s gone. One of my favorite comedians said the other day that when the music was too loud in her car (kids playing it in the back) she couldn’t see well. Maybe I need to turn the music down.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw
My daily routine has been sent spiraling out of control – like it has for many people. It was filled with dozens of subtle reminders about how to order my steps. Seeing people on a regular basis never fails to remind me about how important they are in my life – even people I don’t really know. It helps me to realize, again and again, that I’m not the center of the universe. Keeps the pity party clown away from the front door.
Reminders help me to do the right thing. When I keep a list of names going, it helps me to stay on track and to prioritize my thinking. Being around other people, even if it’s a phone call or text, nudges me to think about the cares and worries that my friends and family are shouldering. Maybe there’s something I can do to help? Even a kind word might be just right. I’ve started keeping visual lists (post-it notes) around me so that I can remember the people that need care and prayer.
There is so much of life and living that is out of order right now. Taken-for-granted reminders can seem lost in the fog. So many routines are gone, new or changing:
- Going to work or staying home?
- Wearing pants or not?
- Familiar people missing from your life?
- Church services on or off?
- Not much in the way of casual entertainment – dining out, movies, events?
- Live sporting events are just weird now, right?
That rear seat reminder got me thinking about all of the ways I am having to be more intentional with my social connections – speak to each person in your day; the grocery sacker, the girl in the fast food window, the neighbor passing across the street, wave a lot more to strangers, anyone who delivers to your door.
If you could have a warning light go off to remind you to think about or do the most important things in your life these days, what would the indicator read?
Take a minute and make a list of your life right now. Chart your progress. Pinpoint where you are on the map. What’s getting done and what’s not? Who are you becoming each day? Who are you supposed to be everyday? Who do the people in your life need you to be? I hope this time of isolation will one day be known (among other accomplishments and bitter failures) as a golden age of reflection.
- Be sure to listen to what your spouse is saying (and not saying).
- Go back and look at your pre-COVID goals, the big ones. What can you adjust and tackle?
- Spend extra time with your children (after asking them to put down their phones) in their rooms, doing what they want to do. You might have to get on the floor.
- Establish new routines while working from home. A time to yourself, writing and reflecting before you jump into your day. Can you walk “around the block” and get a cup of coffee? Schedule regular times to get out of your cave. Meals around the table instead of the TV?
- Weather permitting, go sit in the backyard and watch that evening screen up in the sky while talking to the real people in your life.
- Doesn’t sound like much fun, but I’m cleaning out cabinets and closets, Feels better once it’s done. Who really needs a 6-year old can Raid? There may be some spiritual cubby holes that need dusting as well!
As Steinbeck noticed in the quote at the start, human beings need to be around other human beings on a regular basis – to remind us how to keep being human. We learn how to be human from our parents, teachers and friends. We keep learning from others how to stay human the rest of our lives.
“Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness.” ― Fernando Pessoa
Remember when God created the world, each time he made something, he declared each was good. When he made man, he said, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Look for reminders in your life to stay connected and help others to keep connected. Post some in any way that you can. Otherwise we may all lose something that keeps us human, keeps us civilized.