What travelling alone taught me about self-isolation
BY ANGELA CARTER
Special to the VOICE
Not long before the COVID-19 novel coronavirus emerged in our world, I returned from a six-month journey around the world. On November 7, 2019, I arrived safely at the Toronto International Airport, where the life of travelers was alive, bustling, and joyful. Much different than today, where it is desolate and filled with cautiousness and fear. Having literally flown around the world through Europe, Australia, New Zealand and back around to North America, I experienced the world at a time that will forever be embedded in gratitude and appreciation for the gift of perfect timing.
As I sit in self-isolation, I can’t help but reflect on how six months of travelling alone in foreign countries, where people didn’t speak my language, has helped me appreciate and make the most of this time we have been given, not chosen. My decision to travel alone unknowingly put me in a position of self-isolation—isolation from my home, my family, my friends and from my clients. I became hug- deprived as I faced the fact that I could not show this affection that has become an integral part of who I am. I couldn’t see the people I loved face-to-face as I did so often, and I couldn’t rely on anyone around me as I did when they were close by. Today I’m in the same situation, only I’m in my neighborhood next to my friends, in the same city as my family and the same region as my clients. Life is so different and yet it feels so much the same for me. As I sit here looking out my window, I am drawing on that experience from afar to help me stay connected and grounded in our temporary world of physical distance. As you join me in parts of my journey, I hope you are inspired by what possibilities might emerge for you.
Life as I knew it would be substantially different from the moment I landed in Barcelona, Spain, in May 2019, until the moment I landed at the Toronto Airport six months later. Isolation hit me hard when I left my friend Karen after our two weeks together in Spain. I left the comfort of companionship and ventured into the unknown. It was my first time travelling alone and I had no idea what to expect. After hours on a train headed north, I was hungry and happy to get out and walk. I left the train station, luggage and backpack in tow, with a purpose of finding a place to eat. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and not much was open in this small little town. After walking for some time I saw an open door and a patio. I chose a table on the patio and had my first experience being exposed to people who didn’t understand a word I said. They did, however, understand the gestures I made, and the authenticity of my expressions. They served me so well at this restaurant despite not speaking my language. Life would be different travelling alone but I remember feeling it would be okay.
As we navigate this pandemic I see how invaluable our gestures and expressions of gratitude are to those who are serving us right now from the table of healthcare and social service. I don’t understand the intricate language of their worlds, what is required of them during this crisis, and what they are sacrificing in the event that I find myself at their doorstep, but I know that they are ready to serve however they can. There are no words needed. Their gestures and expressions of care can be seen, heard, and felt by us all. I am sending out the warmest hugs of immense gratitude and appreciation to all of them.
For six months I woke up in a strange bed, in a strange house, in a strange city and in a strange country. Our world today is equally as strange and foreign to us, and we get out of bed every day uncertain as to what might unfold. While the feeling of impending illness that a pandemic brings is so much different than a journey around a strange and unfamiliar world, how we choose to spend each day despite what’s happening around us is really not so different.
That six months went by fast and for nearly every day of it I chose not to listen to the news, to watch TV, or to be influenced by anything other than what I might discover on my own. I was open, adventurous, and brave, persevering through the dark times of loneliness to wholeheartedly enjoying the bright days of being alone. As days, weeks, and months went by, I saw a transformation in myself. Without the influence of my daily norms, of my previous sanctions of life, I was free. Free to make whatever choice mattered to me in the moment, free to decide how I would make the most of my day, and free to explore all my potential and possibilities.
While isolation feels like confinement with a lack of freedom, I do feel the same sense of control over my choices, and that gives me a sense of freedom right now. We know that things will change every day for the next little while and we cannot stop what is happening or ignore the important news. We can, however, have influence and control within our circumstances and are free to choose where we focus our energy right now.
My thoughts take me to my hike in the Swiss Alps. How wonderful it started out, how unexpectedly it changed and how rewarding the view was at the end. While I may not now be able to physically hike the Alps like I did, I can definitely choose to climb whatever mountain I’m at the bottom of. That mountain today is innovation, new beginnings and transformation. The world as we know it will be different after COVID-19 and similar to how I got lost in the Alps in August last year. I would imagine we’ll get lost on our way through this journey as well. But in the midst of that unexpected experience I discovered how resilient my body was as it endured a steep and rugged path it had never been on before. I remember how I developed the resilience in my mind of never giving up and never giving in to the possibility of not finding my way. I recall how I overcame the emotions of fear and isolation when no one else was in sight and I couldn’t see which way I needed to go. I can feel how my spirit of hope and the presence of my Auntie Suze from heaven stayed with me so I never felt alone.
Our experiences can help guide us through this rugged, unfamiliar terrain of COVID-19 to what will be a beautiful view on the other side of this unknown mountain. Change is inevitable and the choice to embrace it and find our way through it is ours to make.
I have peace of mind now as I sit here writing and reflecting. Life as we know it will be different but I feel more grounded as I put things into perspective and draw on my experiences abroad in preparation for what is to come. Handling self-isolation and physical distancing during COVID-19 is really no different than how I handled travelling alone. That is comforting. We all have life experiences that can help us right now. We are resilient in our own way and we can build that resilience as we make our way through self-isolation, through selflessness in our service, and through the compassion and kindness for others.
We are partners in building our world’s resilience right now and we are not alone. Each and every one of our lives are so vastly different in what we are experiencing but we are all on a rugged path in unfamiliar terrain together. We can’t see where the path will end or even where it might take us, but we can be resilient along the way.
Let’s all take a moment to reflect, to be grateful and to be resilient. Let’s go forth with confidence, courage and spirit. Let’s be there for ourselves, for each other and for the world in which we live. We have the choice on how we handle this.
Be safe, be smart, and be strong!
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