January. Perhaps feeling the weight of winter on our collective shoulders, our small church congregation begins a new practice of gathering in the basement after service for muffins and conversation. I grab muffins for my kids, talk for a minute or two to the few people I know, and then commence the awkward standing-around-trying-to-look-busy. I am grateful to have a whiny, clingy toddler because I can at least occupy myself being a mother instead of a loner.
We moved here last summer, and while I know it can take a long time to forge friendships, I leave church feeling discouraged. I long to be past small talk and to know people well enough that I know what questions to ask about how their weeks have gone. When my kids have finished their muffins, I help them put their heavy coats back on and head to the parking lot.
A midwest winter is a lonely thing when even our urban neighborhood goes quiet. The rest of the year, when grass is visible and the sun shines, we can linger on sidewalks and hang out on porches. There is an energy that flows from the streets to my veins, and it helps me feel connected. But in winter, the cold sends us all indoors to shelter, to warmth. We huddle up and hibernate. My children are snuggly, but they are not my friends.
February. I board a plane to Los Angeles for a weekend getaway with my dear friends, none of whom I’ve ever met in person before. I can’t help smiling as I walk down the plane aisle toward my seat, because I can’t imagine anything better in this moment than a weekend of adult conversation under the California sun. We stay up late every night, lounging around the hot tub or eating chocolate at the kitchen island, sharing family stories that make us laugh until we cry. When it comes time to head home to Indiana, I’m in awe of the fact that these friendships which started online have blossomed into something so deep and profound. Waiting to check my bags at LAX, I notice a few people wearing face masks and I make a note to wash my hands a bit more vigorously.
March. The weather has finally started to warm up, and it seems we are coming out of hibernation. On March 12, I keep my oldest home from school because he is running a slight fever. By the end of the day, we learn school is closed for the foreseeable future, and he will not get to say good-bye to his teacher or classmates. Over the course of two weeks, I watch my entire calendar get wiped clean by invisible but omnipresent forces.
I drive home from Aldi one day, not yet knowing I will soon make a semi-permanent switch to grocery delivery. Just before the final turn toward my home, I pass a median full of sunshine-yellow daffodils. Back in the kitchen, I say to my husband, “Have you seen all those daffodils?! They are beautiful. I don’t remember them from last year.”
“Lindsey,” he replies, laughing, “We didn’t live here last year.” My jaw drops open, and I am silent as I think it through. How can time simultaneously be moving so quickly and so slowly?
April. My friend Mary Kate, one of the women I met face-to-face in L.A., creates a group for our friends on a messaging app called Marco Polo. I had used it once before, several years ago, but few people I wanted to talk to seemed to have accounts, so I didn’t stick around. Now I dive back in. I see my friends’ faces, get tours of their gardens, and hear their children giggle (and shriek) in the background.
I open the app one day and notice that several of the women from my Monday morning prayer group are on there. I consider making a group chat for us—but it feels presumptive. Some of these women have been friends for decades, and I still feel like the new girl. Who am I to insert myself into their lives this way, to assume they’d like to talk with me more than they already do? But I take the risk.
I try to make that first message as lighthearted as possible: “Hey—this is a totally no-pressure thing!! Don’t feel like you need to respond. I know everyone is totally tired of screens lately, with all this at-home and e-learning and whatever. But…I just thought it could be fun. So, here we are. Again, no pressure.”
But I feel the pressure. I feel the pressure of needing to continue growing these relationships, somehow, even in quarantine. Otherwise, I fear I’ll be stuck totally alone and isolated by the time this is all over.
Within a few hours, all four other women respond with what feels like enthusiasm.
What I am learning during quarantine is isolation and loneliness do not necessarily exist in concert; it’s more than possible to have one without the other. I am more isolated than ever in this strange time, but my loneliness is slowly abating, thanks to a free app on my phone and the offering of an invitation.
For years, I have understood the power and necessity of vulnerability, but it’s always scary. It’s scary because until the very moment I hear someone say, “Me too” part of me keeps believing the lie that I am the only one. But one of the surprising gifts of the pandemic is that now, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not the only one. The specifics of our experiences vary, of course, but we are all here, doing the thing: staying home, distance learning, canceling plans, wondering what life will look like in the year ahead. It is easier to step into vulnerability because we are confident others will understand what we’re going through, the factors complicating our decisions, or the way we’ve suddenly begun to resent the word “unprecedented.”
May. I look out across the yard and see my four friends, gathered around a fire pit in chairs spaced six feet apart. (A tape measure was involved.) In ten weeks, I have seen no one in person except for my four immediate family members, the bartender who handles carry-out at our neighborhood brewery, and the nice teenagers in the Chick-fil-A drive-through. But tonight, my prayer group and I move our conversation from 4G to fresh air, and I feel so light I could float into the sky like a balloon.
June. I’ve had all notifications on my phone turned off for months, but now I’ve decided to allow Marco Polo notifications. Every ping is a lifeline, my tether to the outside world, the cord that connects me to other moms in a season when I might otherwise feel totally isolated in my home.
July. I stand in my kitchen slicing up an orange with my phone propped up against the backsplash. I am listening to a message from my friend, and she is out on a walk. She is crying as she comes to terms with how much she will miss her daughter when she leaves for college. I feel two things at the same time: compassion and sadness for my friend in the middle of a hard transition, and also intense gratitude that she chose to share these raw feelings with me.
I begin to cry, too, and I’m not sure which feeling is the source.
August. This summer, the five of us dedicated what must be hours and hours of video messages to our questions and worries and hopes about the pandemic, schools, and anti-racism. We went along on rides to quarantine-appropriate camping trips and hikes, and we’ve cheered one another on through the dreaded COVID nose swab. We have said, “You’re probably asleep and won’t see this ’til the morning,” only to learn someone else was up folding laundry and someone else was watching Dirty Dancing. We’ve learned how awkward it is to pray aloud into our phone cameras.
Our church still meets on Zoom. My children are attending school virtually for at least the first quarter. We’ve moved into a new home, and we introduced ourselves to the neighbors standing at least six feet back. I don’t know when we’ll be able to open our doors and host a dinner or small group. I don’t know if we’ll get to spend the holidays in Florida with our families. Marco Polo still holds the majority of my adult conversations.
But this I know: I am not alone.
Lindsey Cornett is a writer and editor who lives in Indianapolis with her scientist husband and three young kids. If her kids aren’t demanding to be held, she’s probably carrying a pen, a book, or a coffee. In both writing and life, she hopes to provide hope and solidarity to any other women who find themselves afraid to make mistakes. She is a co-founder of The Drafting Desk, an email newsletter of soulful encouragement for recovering perfectionists. Her writing has been featured at Coffee + Crumbs, Motherly, and (in)courage. You can always find her on Instagram or learn more about her writing and editing services at www.lindseycornett.com.