I live in what’s called a county-island. Larger lots with many trees and thick vegetation; no sidewalks or streetlights; sketchy, or intermittent law enforcement, even though the surrounding city and its services is only a few streets away. It can be annoying, sometimes, to feel excluded. County residents, for example, don’t get to choose the mayor or other city officials. But these days, where I live feels like a personal oasis of healing solitude. These days I feel deep gratitude for the luxury of having so much ‘space’ around me. I cycle wide streets with almost no traffic, listening to birdsong echoing from the tall trees in my neighbors’ yards. I can breathe freely. While much of the world is afraid to breathe.
I grew up in this neighborhood, but moved away as soon as I could as a young adult, to a fast-moving city near the sea, in southern California. For more than two decades I was a poster-child for the California lifestyle. My career was super-charged. Personal relationships were fluid. I veered-away from whatever and whoever might hinder my freedom. My goal was to keep moving, changing, growing and expanding. Reaching my 30’s, I still had no idea (or need to know) what my Ultimate Plan in life was. I was just living, and learning about myself through the daily process.
Somewhere along the line, you begin to ask yourself – or others ask you – “Don’t you want to ‘settle down’?” And other questions follow. Choices get made. Paths become patterns. Life evolves with more planning and precision. I learned that trade-offs and compromises were an unavoidable part of each and every important relationship. Cooperation. Consensus. Negotiation. Communication. The shift from self-made decisions, to joint-decisions was slow and subtle. I was taught to expect joy in this transition, but I never really did.
Little by little — choice by choice — over time, the personal space around us shrinks. I’ve lived in large, dense cities and also in small towns. It’s not about feeling physically crowded. It’s about having, or not having, the opportunity for personal, peaceful moments of self-reflection. Centering. Space and time to remind myself (as I did so many times, back in the day), “Before there was me, you, and Baby, there was just me. I need to remember the woman that I am; underneath all these layers of worries about careers, mortgages, extended family and desires.” And now, The Pandemic.
I read, or hear, almost daily that many people around the world are struggling with the mandated social-distancing. Mental health professionals report an uptick in complaints related to feelings of isolation: loneliness; depression; anxiety. Social media, even more than before, seeks to fill gaps in our daily lives. A flood of streaming options and suggestions are available whenever we need relief or distraction. I’m actually bingeing on several platforms on a daily basis, feeling no guilt whatsoever about that.
But when I turn off all of my media and go outside – even if it’s just a moment in the sun, in my small backyard – something even better than ‘distraction’ happens. I re-connect with the healing power of my personal space. I realize that, on a deeper level, this moment in time is a call-to-action for “more attention to what really matters”. I can’t respond to this call without becoming quiet. I take a break from an episode of “Ozark, Season 3”. I let my eyes rest on a flower. I gaze silently at my cat, who’s curled up on a nearby chair. She offers me back a languid, lazy wink.