Thursday, June 10, 2021

Boating with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Aaaaaaand I’m back!

I took a little vacation. I went up to Washington state with some people and spent a few days staying in a beautiful house on a lake. I had a wonderful time, thank you for asking. I got to ride on a boat. I got to run in the forest. I went to new places and met new people and I only embarrassed myself a little more than the normal amount.

The pandemic is not over, I know, but the scientific miracle that is these vaccines has given us back a version of life that I am incredibly grateful for.

It wasn’t until I arrived back in my empty little apartment on Tuesday night that I realized how debilitatingly lonely I have been. My situation is not unique. Lots of people went through quarantine alone. I was lucky to have family zoom calls and a supportive group of coworkers and friends to talk to, but nothing is quite as life affirming as being in the same room with other people. It is with good reason that some countries consider solitary confinement to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. 

I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I got back here. Not because it is terrible here — I’ve made the best of quarantine, I suppose — but because of how much simply being around other people felt like such a warm blanket. It was like walking in out of a bone chilly cold into a room warmed by a fireplace and with chocolate chip cookies baking nearby. I had to go back out into the cold eventually, but the experience of the cold is different after you’ve known warmth.

There is a scene I always think about from the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is a book about prisoners in a Stalinist gulag. Each morning they have to pile out of the bunkhouse into the Russian winter and the guards inspect each prisoner to make sure they’re not taking anything illicit out on their work day. Solzhenitsyn goes on for like two pages about Ivan’s strategy for standing in front of the fire in the bunkhouse absorbing as much warmth as he can before he has to step out for inspection. About the way he’s learned to buckle his coat over his body to make sure he takes as much heat with him as possible. The thing that sticks in my mind about it is that Ivan knows that the guards are going to make him open his coat once he lines up outside. He’s not trying to take the warmth with him all day, he knows he’s only going to get to enjoy it for a few brief moments. But he has a whole strategy for it, because he knows that at the very least, those are moments that he can enjoy. Ivan has learned to appreciate things as brief as that.

Now, I am not in a gulag. I did think of Ivan though while I was gone. I so enjoyed being able to be a person in the world again, to talk to people, to drink with people, to play cards with people, to enjoy people again, to laugh until I cried. There is so much life out there still and bit by bit by ever-too-slow bit, it is coming back. And I am eager for its return.




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