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The Oxymoron of Living in Community While Isolated

The Oxymoron of Living in Community While Isolated

By: Marybeth Gallagher

Since being required to “shelter in place,” I’ve come to notice the beauty and aliveness in life that I was missing.  It’s like the stories I’ve been told of the “good old days,” before technology!  I’ve noticed more aliveness in my full self, being attuned to my mind, heart, and body.  I’ve noticed the beauty of spring sprouting while walking through our neighborhood (even if this was just the growing dandelion that my 3-year-old spotted!); I’ve smelled the goodness of barbeque while walking down the street supporting local eateries; I’ve heard the nightly hooting and howling being done across Colorado, honoring those on the front line; I’ve heard and seen music being played from rooftops bringing hope to neighborhoods across the world; I’ve played with sidewalk chalk, like many others, leaving my masterpieces to provide a ray of hope and sunshine in other’s lives as they pass by; I’ve noticed neighbors sitting on their porches and rooftop patios (observing proper spatial distancing, of course!), conversing for hours while truly getting to know one another: sharing worries, sharing laughter, celebrating birthdays, celebrating each other.

But here’s my dirty little secret… What I described above has only become apparent as I have been more and more honest with myself.  Before the “shelter in place” announcement, I was racing through my life! My life was living me! It was taking me to the point of exhaustion and mere survival from day to day.  This included juggling family, young kids, demanding work, work travel, friends, extended family, perhaps even a bit of self-care.  I’d sometimes wake at 3 or 4am in order to fit it all in. These superhuman expectations had me running through the world, cramming things into my own life, and into my kids’ lives as well, as I tried to make sure they got to experience everything: gymnastics, dance, swimming, music, faith, and more, filling up any empty space in our evenings and weekends.

What I have come to realize is that prior to COVID-19 I wasn’t “sheltering in place,” but I was “isolating on the go.”  While I was in contact with others, let’s be real….it was in passing conversations, the obligatory hello and wave, and mostly through my social media outlets.  Was I my most authentic self in these quick encounters?  Probably not.  Was I masking my true feelings?  You betcha, at least those that I was aware of….and was numb to my other feelings!  Was I aware that I was doing any of that?  Heck no!  I was too busy racing through life, keeping up the smile that people have come to know of me.

Even from six feet apart, even from behind a mask, the change of pace that has come with our new reality has allowed me to slow down enough to see the gentle smiles from others and notice the more subtle expressions – theirs, and my own.  During this time – and after – I want to open my eyes and my heart, to be present in the communities I belong to, and to share my authentic self, my gifts, and my talents, without expecting anything in return. I am choosing to be more present and more alive, not in spite of, but because of this isolation.

We WILL get through this…. So I now ask myself and others: how do you want to get to the other side?  And more importantly, who do you want to be when we get there?