Extreme Social Distancing

I braced myself against the stone structure on the summit and took a deep breath, savoring the fresh, mountain air. While the intense wind was cold and biting, I stopped before descending and took a second to reflect on the freedom and joy I felt in that moment, surrounded by rolling green hills, the rapidly proliferating virus seemingly so far in the distance. It was March 15th, shortly before the UK’s deep dive into lockdown, yet social distancing had begun days prior. Already feeling the effects of withdrawal from human interaction, Rohan and I decided to hike Slieve Donard, the tallest peak in Northern Ireland. We jokingly termed our activity “extreme social distancing,” for what could be a more effective isolation strategy than wandering into the wilderness and climbing as far away from the rest of society as humanely possible?

It was a lovely day, capped off with steak quesadillas at the taqueria near my apartment building. Yet, in the following days, the crisis escalated, heightening stress levels and government restrictions. I decided to remain in Belfast, largely due to family circumstances, but also because of the deep sadness I felt at the thought of putting an abrupt end to my life in Ireland. I never wavered in that decision; indeed, the number of Irish friends that reached out, offering spare rooms and family support, as well as the virtual moral support of other international friends who stayed, has convinced me, now more than ever, that Belfast has become my home. While every aspect of daily life here has changed since lockdown began, I’ve developed new practices and behaviors that have allowed me to adjust to quarantine with relative ease. I schedule daily calls with friends and family members, use the “Netflix Party” feature to chat with my sister while re-watching our favorite shows, and venture outside for my government-sanctioned daily exercise trips. My most enjoyable new hobby is my current effort to explore every Belfast park while staying six (or, most of the time, sixty) feet away from all of the other wanderers.

The pandemic feels all-consuming. It’s difficult to conceive of anything else to talk or think about, and I’m often unsure of whether I should allow myself to indulge in such thoughts, given the stress and suffering people are experiencing throughout the world. However, in moments of deep breaths, of video chats with old friends, of walks through empty Belfast parks, it becomes easier to remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for. These moments truly help me, as does the daily practice my Belfast friends and I adopted, in which we share things we’re thankful for, in greater numbers on each day of quarantine. The intentionality and reflection required by this practice helps me cultivate perspective and find comfort even in this uncertain time. With that in mind, and with the hope that you may find a similar exercise helpful, I’ll share my list with you as well.  

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