After the Pandemic

Many of my friends have been wondering what life will look like after Covid-19. We all agree there will be changes. Less time commuting and more working from home, less running errands and more vans arriving to the front of our house with whatever item we need. I will welcome the return of time with my friends and family. The lack of this time with them results in more silence in my day. However, this brought me to reading about people who sought this silence without the restrictions of a pandemic.  For a period in their lives, they chose silence, they chose to be alone.

In 1972, Seamus Heaney, was 33 years old, a young man at the time, who had already had some success as a poet. However, he found that he was spending too much time teaching in his classroom at Queen’s College in Belfast, or with friends socially, and was also often sought out as a spokesperson for the Catholic minority in his birthplace, Northern Ireland. Heaney did not feel his creative work was “sufficiently at the centre of my life”.  Heaney resigned from his prestigious teaching post and moved himself and his family to a “damp” cottage down a little-known road in County Wicklow, located in the Republic of Ireland. He wrote of this time: “I was going through a rite of passage. I wanted to step out of the rhythms I had established; I wanted to be alone with myself.” 1972 was the onset of what some critics call the most creative four years of his work, resulting in his collection entitled Field Work.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote Gift from the Sea, addressing women’s lives in the post-World War II 1950s. Lindbergh felt that the role of women changed in the 50’s, as their lives during the World Wars had held purpose. Women were indispensable. However, as the economy grew following World War II, women’s lives in the suburbs became one of “endless distractions, unnecessary errands, and compulsive duties” to fill the void left from their previous lives. Lindbergh makes the point that just as milk in the breast must be replenished with food, if a woman’s function is to give, most especially to her family, then she must be replenished as well. This replenishment requires some part of each day or week or month to be alone. However, Lindbergh points out, although we can decline an invitation due to our business appointments, haircuts, play-dates and shopping- all penciled in on our calendar –  we cannot  say sorry, I cannot make that date as that is my alone time. This would be seen as rude or strange, maybe a little egotistical. Lindbergh suggests in Gift from the Sea that the world simply does not understand this need to be alone.

David Whyte does not call it the need to be alone or alone with myself, as Heaney did.  Whyte calls it hiding.  In his book entitled Consolations, he argues that hiding is a way of staying alive. And it is underestimated. Whyte points out that hiding is found in almost every part of the natural world, usually as a means for an animal to stay alive. But for you and me, Whyte explains that hiding is a way to get away from the misunderstandings of others, while we hole up and grow away from a place that has already decided who we are.  In this way, hiding is a bid for independence, where we have a chance to reexamine ideas about ourselves that might be mistaken.  As Heaney, the magnificent poet put it, where we step out of the rhythms established. We let go of our to-do list and pencil in some alone time.

This might seem like an odd topic to bring up when so many of us are struggling with too much alone time due to the pandemic. But I think not. I suggest using this time to replenish yourself.  Take this time to make your work, your true work, the center of yourself. Turn hiding from Covid-19 as a way to escape all those misunderstandings and expectations out there about who you really are and what you are supposed to be doing. As a result, after the pandemic, you will  emerge from this time in your life in your true human form, knowing who you really are, centered on your true work, replenished, and ready for that new world just over the horizon. This is what I hope my life looks like after Covid-19. What about you?

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