Nasrallah: On using our solitude wisely during a pandemic

May 24, 2021 | By | More

Nasrallah: On using our solitude wisely during a pandemic

Decades from now, if anyone wonders what people did during the 2020 pandemic, my answer will be simple: We survived. We made our aloneness matter. We learned the value of staying still.

Author of the article:

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah

May 19, 2021

Having been born in Lebanon, I know a thing or two about hardship, agony, isolation during war, and savage lonely days of mayhem and danger. The COVID-19 global virus pandemic has been a different animal all together. We do our best to escape its grip by self-isolating, wearing a face mask and keeping distant from other people when we must go out in public, and protecting ourselves through frequent hand-washing. Even then, there remains a chance that a simple secondary contact, or a cough from an infected person, could sentence us to a world of sickness. This is what we live with.

Wars and epidemics are alike in that they maim and kill with seeming cold indifference. They attack our old familiar habits, destroy our regular daily routines, and rob us of the joy of just being ourselves. In his novel, DeNiro’s Game, Lebanese author Rawi Hage said: “Ten thousand bombs had landed on Beirut, that crowded city, and I was lying on a blue sofa covered with white sheets to protect it from dust and dirty feet.” Three or four months of social distancing in 2020 reminded me of my own experience with war-torn Lebanon of the 1970s. The threats of war then, and the virus dangers today seem not that far apart in the way they afflict a population, both physically and mentally.

Writing about the COVID-19 pandemic, New York Times opinion columnist Roger Cohen observed: “Having witnessed the unimaginable, having been on this journey into an unfamiliar world of silence and stillness and death, having been obliged to change unquestioned habits, will humanity simply return to its former ways if that proves possible?”

Envisioning a future free of strife is not easy when you are sheltering in place, but I hope that some things will return to the way they were. My own family has been separated, our connections with one another confined to telephone calls, texts, email, Zoom chats and the odd doorstep visit. We have enjoyed no hugs, no kisses — no touching. The intimacy that was normal yesterday has vanished in the dawn of a new era borne on the heels of an invisible virus, a global pandemic that is both ruthless and indiscriminate.

What my wife Nancy and I have missed above all else are the regular Monday-night “Lebanese family dinners” she would prepare at our home in Ottawa for our daughters and their significant

The good news is that we are all capable of adapting to new situations, and adapting we are to the new reality of COVID-19 in our own personal ways. While I miss my ritual Saturday morning quiet time at Starbucks, I have been occupying myself in other ways. In addition to catching up on some new reading that I have been procrastinating on, and revisiting the eternally engaging classics of Plato, Socrates and Voltaire, and more modern favourites such as Christopher Hitchens and Yuval Noah Harari, I have learned to bake. It is an art that has quickly become a passion, and I enjoy making new dishes of sweet cakes and muffins.

I have also finished writing my fourth book. George Orwell wrote that “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” So I guess I have the “demon pandemic” to thank for something.

But what I find most interesting is that I have learned the value of staying still. Everything has become relative on Mother Earth, these days, and solitude has become a virtue – as long as it keeps its distance from loneliness. The days of COVID-19 might be long, but in retrospect the years will probably seem short.

Decades from now, if anyone wonders what people did during the 2020 pandemic, my answer will be simple: We survived. We used our time wisely. We made solitude matter.

Life goes on, and to invoke a familiar sentiment: Let us not die while we are still alive. For myself, I look forward to the return of the simple things that make life wonderful – especially the family dinners on Monday nights where we can hug and laugh and talk. Where we can be close to one another. And yes, Wynston will be part of that too, allowed back inside the house to revel in his joy and playfulness in his own way.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah is an Ottawa immigration consultant and social science commentator, and the author of “Hostage to History – The Cultural Collapse of the 21st Century Arab World.”





Category: Headlines

Comments are closed.