Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Collapse XLVII: On Being Alone

21 November 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Well, I have indeed been a slug-a-bed: no communication for two weeks? You must have though me dead or worse (given the current state of affairs, death is not really the worst thing that can occur).

Not dead, thankfully. Saddened, perhaps. May I even say a bit depressed? I had not given the thought I should have to what the impact of being shut away from everyone for long periods of time can do to the soul.

I have lived here long enough to anticipate and know the winters, which do not lend themselves to the sorts of “outings” that one finds in less snowy and cold climes. I have also lived here long enough to know that the opportunities for socialization remain much less than in the urban areas – as you will recall, this was actually one of the reasons that I moved here.

What I had not anticipated – thought about perhaps, even pondered – was what happens when civilization effectively hits the “Pause” button.

Having the option to go out or not go out, to shop or not to shop, to listen and watch or turn off, is quite a different thing than not having the option to do those things at all. Even before, there was always the option to go to the town or city for shopping and a bookstore and a meal or coffee, to turn on the radio or the InterWeb at my leisure to listen to the news of the day or music or anything that happened to catch my fancy.

None of that exists now, of course. Certainly not the cities and shopping and dining and only occasionally can one find a radio station transmitting – and they hardly transmit the sorts of things that raise the spirit. The InterWeb still occasionally sparks on as well – but again, who wants bad news from all over when one has bad news at home?

I would say I am fortunate in that I have a community so I occasionally still see someone – but even that is becoming more and more of a rare event. Yes, the snow on the ground does not move things forward, but going out represents time and energy and calories that one might need later – as well as the risk of sickness or accident which, with no immediate medical aid available, presents its own sets of risks.

It may sound to you that I am complaining of my conditions – I am not. I am extremely fortunate even still: I have a roof over my head and heat and water and food with every belief that I shall make it to the other side of this event (as opposed to living in an urban area, where I imagine my chances would be much worse). What I am doing is coming to the realization that keeping ourselves “bunkered in” while the world moves on outside of us does something to the soul, something that I wonder if any of us anticipated outside of researchers that studied such things and published in obscure journals.

It is one thing to isolate by choice. It is another to be isolated not by choice, by command or by circumstances. The first is based on freedom of action. The second is based on the tyranny of circumstances which gives neither an end date nor a hint of relief.

We may yet survive this Lucilius. What I wonder is what we will find – not in terms of crumbling ruins and defunct technology – but in terms of the souls of those that remain. Will we seek out community again? Will we know what that means? Or will we continue to only have small touch points as we have forgotten how and what it means to socialize?

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca


  1. Anonymous1:28 PM

    Thanks for the installment.

    It is rather strange shopping now, pretending that wearing a mask while shopping with even the children masked is normal. Receiving a 'spritz' of hand sanitizer walking into store - ditto. Medical appointments have changed greatly too, with patients waiting outside the office, not knowing when they will be called in. Such a pain.

    Many of our leaders tell us to self isolate by choice. But expect us to care about the disadvantaged. Quite a few of us feel like we are now sharing the suffering. That does not make me feel sympathy.

    "We may yet survive this Lucilius. What I wonder is what we will find – not in terms of crumbling ruins and defunct technology – but in terms of the souls of those that remain. Will we seek out community again? Will we know what that means? Or will we continue to only have small touch points as we have forgotten how and what it means to socialize?"

    Yes, many times that.

    1. Anonymous - As always, you are quite welcome. I have to be honest that writing this after a break was hard - part of the reason that I stopped was that reality overtook fiction. Hopefully I am now in a place where I can channel reality back into fiction.

      I am of the opinion that in many ways, this has changed how we socialize forever - or at least in my lifetime. The reality is that transmissible diseases are always about yet somehow we never worried about them before. Be assured that I am worried about them going forward and - for myself - anticipate masking up when I go out for the rest of my life.

      Interestingly, as you point out, it also tends to diminish our capacity for sympathy. We constantly hear "We are all in this together", but I cannot think of a time when I have felt less together. Dividing the world into the essential and non-essential, bending laws for some while not for others, effectively deciding what are critical activities and what are not - these are the things that drive people apart, not keep them together.

  2. In the back of my mind I remembered that you had a new chapter up, just waiting for me to enjoy..... 11 days later!

    Very astute observations about being alone. Current events lend themselves to thinking more deeply about this, especially with another lockdown being threatened. Do leaders really not understand the human consequences? Or is it that they simply do not care? The more disconnected we become, the harder it will be to experience ourselves as a society again.

    1. Leigh - Well, in all fairness it took me almost three months to write another letter, so we are more than even!

      Honestly, I did not have the heart to write it because of events - real life made me simulated story seem, well, a bit arrogant and false (although not so false as I first thought). I think the other factor is that I had assimilate the complete transition of our society from an "outward facing" society to one that is essentially "inward facing". I have a better handle on it now, and I think Seneca will find his rhythm again - with major holidays coming up, it is a perfect time for (even more) reflection.

      I do not think leaders understand the consequences, or care (frankly). In their mind, human interactions are similar to business: they can be restarted at the drop of a hat. They cannot, of course, and you express one of my biggest concerns whenever the "all clear" is given: we will have been apart so long that we will have no ability to be together again.


Comments are welcome (and necessary, for good conversation). If you could take the time to be kind and not practice profanity, it would be appreciated. Thanks for posting!