It seems that ‘[y]achtbrokers have seen a surge in bookings as people fleeing the coronavirus crisis look to go into isolation for months afloat’ (‘Demand for luxury yachts fuelled by self-isolation of super-rich’, Telegraph Business, March 23, 2020).
As someone who has been involuntarily confined to barracks for a number of years there are a few things worth bearing in mind for the not-so-rich older person feeling not-so-super as they self-isolate due to the dreaded virus. As long as food, medicines and other basics can be delivered, for those living alone and now unable to receive visitors the greatest problem about self-isolation is the isolation itself. Yes, there are millions of TV channels, but none to match the entertainment value of the two or three we had 40 years ago; and although TV binge-watching has its attractions for the occasional day off sick, permanently lounging in front of the TV when well is attractive only to the terminally lazy.
When we are unable to go out, even the check-out staff at the supermarket seem interesting; but at least we are all in the same boat now, and even if the boat is not a luxury yacht we can console ourselves with the thought that visitors would come if they could, and utilise the modern technology unavailable to the lonely old people of yore. They could only sit at their windows or, if slightly fitter, in their front doorways hoping for a smile and a word from a friendly passer-by, while we can telephone, email or Skype – although Skypeing does mean we have to look our best so as not to frighten people into dialling 111. If we can find someone to post a letter or a card, so much the better – and what better time to get in touch with old friends and acquaintances just to make sure they are not feeling lonely?
Many years ago I was mildly surprised that my late father, mostly confined to his chair by the fireside, was so upset when the Council cut down a tree on the green outside, only to realise much later that it was just about all he could see from his window. When there are no human beings, the view matters even more.
But if there are no trees to befriend, and no friends or family to visit, we can make friends with the past – with all those authors we have been meaning to read; we can sharpen the memory by learning all those poems and speeches of which we can remember only a snatch or two – usually in the wrong order, stitched together with errs and umms to cover up the missing bits. Take fresh air and exercise, even if it consists in walking on the spot by an open window or, if that is too much, rhythmically moving and stretching the limbs when sitting down. Plan a menu; bake something and eat it. Reacqaint yourself with the contents of the freezer – although, depending on how long it is since you ventured in there, take care about eat-by dates and also the cryogenically preserved polar bear guarded by hungry Eskimos.
When we have taken care of our material needs we are left with the spiritual hunger so often dulled by material feasting; but whatever we may suffer in the way of loneliness, Christ was ahead of us when he ‘self-isolated’ in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights – the origins of our Lenten fasting – in preparation for the ultimate sacrifice that saved the world. We sometimes use other people as a distraction from spiritual hunger, and what better time than Lent to ‘fast’ from taking other people for granted? We may even find ourselves talking to our Father in Heaven – especially if we have not been in touch for a while – thanking him for sparing our lives and praying for those who have not been so fortunate.
We may have to hide away for more than 40 days – indeed, it may seem as though our self-isolation will last for ever – but it cannot take away our hope, which died on Calvary only to spring to life again on Easter Sunday morning. Even in not-so-splendid isolation, the Corona virus cannot succeed in isolating us from God, our hope of eternal life; when all is darkness and despair, hope springs eternal, and we are never alone in our isolation.