PhD Candidate in Anthropology
Rainbows in the windows for the passers-by;
Thursday 8pm, cheering in our homes;
Scrolling memes, o’ crazy world! -sharing them.
A video made, in isolation, of students singing in union – headsets on.
– Post it on.
Joining in five new teams and Facebook groups.
Calling friends; emailing people who I have not met in five years.
Everyone together – alone in our homes.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has led to people living in isolation or quarantine all over the world. The levels of isolation are different everywhere. Some people live with a large family, or flat with their friends, others live alone – cut off from the rest of the world. In some countries people can still go for walks, enjoy shopping or meet with friends (Finland), while elsewhere one might need a permit to leave the house (France). However, since the beginning of the first regulative measures there has been growing concerns about loneliness.
Goodwin-Hawkins and Meher write that loneliness ‘has no distinct materiality, no clear spatiality – and by definition it lacks sociality’ and yet, it is a concern for the society, something that needs to be tackled and the loners to be taken care of (2019: 118). Loneliness might by definition be lack of sociality but still it is inherently social.
Goodwin-Hawkins and Meher write about loneliness in the context of our own lives, which sounds far too familiar to me:
the years of re-made identity, the years of unmade friends. Our lives of migrant mobility and academic aspiration saw us regularly distanced from close friends. Each of us wrote to the friends we had left behind. Each of us imagined new friends we had not made. (Goodwin-Hawkins and Meher, 2019: 114)
Since the past ten years, I have been living away from my home country, moving from one city to another and from a country to the next. Every move has brought me to new people, new acquaintances and new friends. Yet, it has always taken me away from some other people, who I might not even meet again, but who I miss years after. It creates a feeling of loneliness, which is ‘feeling apart from some imagined, or remembered, or longed-for social coherence’ (Goodwin-Hawkins and Meher, 2019: 119). It is grieving for a lost form of sociality. The time I have spent in the past weeks just at home has made me re-visit my past friends. Since the distance does not matter and face-to-face communication is not possible, I have become maybe even more social than before. Instead of spending my days with people I work with or people living near me, I am spending much more time talking or chatting with my close friends and family, or the people from my past that I care about. With the possibilities of modern technology, it is possible to create new imagined or longed-for social coherence.
However, it is not only the close friends that one feels inclined to get in touch with. The feeling of shared community, that we are all living the same isolation in our own ways away from each other makes people want to tell others ‘you are not alone’. It might be a wave at your neighbour, or an encouraging message left at the window. The feeling of non-loneliness gets even stronger Thursdays at 8 pm, when people come out to their doors to clap for carers, or when you run past drawings of rainbows -maybe I should make one as well…
Loneliness has temporality. It varies from a moment to another. It can be lifted by a call to a friend, by making a rainbow coloured butterfly for the window or by talking to a plant (as my great grandmother used to do). It is something that we all have and can relate to at least to some extent.
People live in different social environments, have their own habits and levels of social interaction with other people and things around them. We are all unique. We perceive loneliness in our own terms and through past experiences. Therefore, it is not surprising that we react differently to the isolation. A friend of mine laughed, noting that his normal daily life is not any different from living under the new restrictions. My grandmother lives in a residential home in Finland and no one is allowed to visit her there. Yet, she has friends, neighbours and carers around her and does not ever have to be alone, though it does not mean she would not be sometimes lonesome. My other grandmother is used to being alone, so this does not affect her, though she does worry about the wellbeing of others and them being alone. It is not necessarily their idea of loneliness that makes them less affected by isolation, but their idea of sociality and that the social coherence in their lives were not greatly disturbed.
Yet, when sitting here at home reading the news, I wonder how some more vulnerable people are doing. On my way to the shop the homeless people seemed distressed and even more abandoned than before. How about the older people that used to go to a day centre every day to meet their friends, get their meals and to just spend their days? Not everyone has the resources and skills to re-create social coherence, and the situation might leave them even more abandoned and alone. On the other hand, the social that some people long for or remember might not be re-discoverable, and the loss can be difficult to cope with.
Goodwin-Hawkins, B., and Meher, M., 2019. “Epistolary Fragments for an Anthropology of Loneliness”, Irish Journal of Anthropology, 22(1), 114-121.