I have recently been reflecting on and writing about my experiences during the pandemic – ways in which it pushed me to a sense of being at the edge rather than fully connected and involved with the rest of the world. I feel sure I was not alone in this as we were all “locked down” and restricted in our interactions with other humans. Initially, I actually liked it. I loved the quiet. I loved not having to do so many things so I could concentrate on writing and being outdoors on my own, something I love. During 2020 I seemed to keep relatively connected with others online. But through the whole of 2021 I was ill, first with Covid and then with Long Covid, and was, basically, only interacting with my close family. This had on-going consequences it has taken me a long time to see, and to then remedy.
It’s taken me so long to see because I have a story about myself that I am basically not very sociable. The origins of this are found both in my introverted temperament and in the circumstances of my childhood. Of course, I always knew I needed and wanted to be with others, and experienced intense loneliness for much of that early time. But the barriers that existed were not all down to external circumstances. From quite young, I had stories inside about me being awkward, unable to fit in, never knowing what to say or do in social situations. Being unsure equated with being unsafe.
I did have some childhood friends, usually only one at a time. These friends taught me about loss, as all of them disappeared from my life after about a year because they moved, or I moved. I loved them all, but began to understand that love meant loss – as, indeed, it does. I determined to keep loving whenever it felt safe enough and possible, despite the inevitable loss, but only began to feel empowered in maintaining friendships as I began to separate from my family when I was 17. It was then I happened to make a friend who, after 58 years, is still in my life. That is very special. Many of the close friends I have made since I still have some contact with. I know friends are important to me.
But, during the pandemic time, I began to lose any real close contact with friends. Ato Rinpoche, my first and very lovely Buddhist teacher, said that other people are our mirrors. We need them to reflect back aspects of ourselves we would not otherwise be aware of. I know this, but somehow forgot it during the pandemic as I became increasingly isolated. The only mirrors I had were the people I lived with. Their views of me, both positive and negative, began to become my view of myself – not their fault, but neither healthy nor enriching.
Once I began to renew my contacts with friends, I became aware again of myself as seen through their eyes. Initially, I was surprised by how they seemed to regard me, but then I noticed I also began to feel more positive about myself – more kind and generous to myself. This is something I need to remember, as loss is part of it all. I have already lost friends to illness and age, and this can only accelerate. I need to value and stay close to my wonderful friends and also be open to new friends. This is not optional – it is life saving.
I have friends who can hug me so I melt.
I have friends who listen carefully, without judgement,
and share honestly their experiences and insights.
I have friends with fresh ideas that enliven me.
I have friends who love me,
so we can laugh together at our many foibles.
I have friends whose stunning creativity inspires me,
and who generously appreciate my own.
I still have a few friends who have known me so long
they remember my mother and my father
and understand where I came from.
Because of these friends,
I am able to be a friend to myself.