Shutdown Soliloquy

so·lil·o·quy\

/səˈliləkwē/

noun: soliloquy; plural noun: soliloquies

an act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers

– Oxford Dictionary

With the newly announced loosening of  restrictions, I am considering how I feel about coming out of lockdown. I need, first and foremost, to qualify what I am going to write. I am a single person who lives alone (and has lived alone for close to 40 years), surrounded by nature. I have been able to keep most of my work (from home), to get out into the forest nearly every day, I have no children at home, and I’m used to spending time by myself. For me, the shutdown has been a gift.

However, I am completely aware that there are many people for whom it has been a nightmare: people who have small children at home, people who have contracted the virus and struggled with it, people whose immediate family or friends have contracted the virus and possibly died from it, people who have lost their income or even their businesses, and the list goes on. So please take what I’m going to write as a completely personal experience, in the background of which I was always aware of the massive suffering throughout the world. It has been truly bittersweet.

For me, the lockdown time has been magical, like a long, loose, meditation retreat. I have loved the quiet, living in a place that is usually teeming with tourists. I have enjoyed seeing new species of birds on the trees outside my house, watching their confidence in sitting where they want and occupying space that they wouldn’t have previously. I have had the privilege of almost daily walks in nature, taking the time to look at the details of every flower, of different kinds of grasses, sitting to meditate or daven overlooking vast, open, green vistas of water, trees, church spires and domes, and red roofed houses between which the bright colors of blooming trees peak.

I have cherished the heightened sensitivity, not just to nature, but to life, that has come with the quiet and the solitude, how I can break into tears or audible laughter at some silly or moving clip that somebody sends me on Whatsapp. While I have not done any creative artistic projects, played music, decluttered my closets and cupboards, or any other of the long list of things that I promise myself I will do when I have time, I have gone back to classical Indian singing and Breema, both of which I haven’t done for nearly twenty years, through virtual practice groups that the teachers have generously provided. I have enjoyed virtual Dances of Universal Peace meetings from all over the world (you can read my blog post on Dances of Universal Peace here), and, in between the endless videos, puzzles, articles, conspiracy theories, and much more, which have been flooding my social media during these weeks, most of which I haven’t opened because I have had little time to do so and little desire, I have seen some excellent music performances and listened to some profound thinkers. None of this would have been possible without the Corona-inspired shutdown.

My bedroom, whose walls are almost all made of glass, overlooks a very popular restaurant in Ein Karem. I highly dislike this restaurant. Its fan makes noise, and, in the summer, when I sleep with my windows open, I hear people sitting on its large outdoor balcony talking until one in the morning, and then the employees dragging tables and chairs across the floor and throwing bottles into the trash as they clean up afterwards. I have always secretly hoped that the restaurant would close. But now, I look down on its abandoned balcony, still set with tables, chairs, and shade umbrellas, and I can think only of the owners of the business, who have to pay exorbitant rent without having any clients, and about the employees, both Jewish and Arab, who have had no income for this entire period. Similarly, when I walk through Mahane Yehuda on one of my bi-weekly shopping outings, and see all of the stalls closed tight with their graffiti-covered shutters, I grieve for the thousands of families who have lost their livelihood. The viral (at least in Israel) video of the weeping falafel seller from Ashdod, who did not want to accept charity, but only to open his stall to be able to feed his family, brought me to tears.

The abandoned balcony of Karma Restaurant, Ein Karem (photo: Ruthi Soudack)

When I consider the new loosening of restrictions, I wonder whether it is too fast. Being in a high-risk group, I have followed most of the guidelines, reduced my grocery and other shopping to once every two weeks, sometimes going at 7:30 in the morning. I spent the Pesach Seder, Shabbatot, and other holidays completely by myself. And now, going out to work or shop or see an attraction, seems absurd, and I want to scream “No, no, no!!! Leave me at home a little longer!” Like coming out of a meditation retreat, it needs to be done gradually, and with awareness.

I absolutely believe that the Corona virus came to teach us how to live in a better world as a better species (and you can read my blog post about that, here), and I don’t think we are there yet. This past weekend, when I walked in nature, I saw numerous groups of people gathered, without social distancing and not wearing masks, surrounded by garbage — discarded wet wipes, cigarette butts, plastic bags, disposable dishes… People seem to think the crisis is over, and are already going back to our “old ways,” and, while I hope they are right, I wonder if there will be a second wave, or some other catastrophe, that will force us to learn to live in harmony with nature and one another, to bring us mutual respect in order to survive. I so much want all the unemployed people to return to work, for the economy to rectify itself, for people to stop dying of this virus, to be able to travel once again… And so, I can only long for a time when we can find quiet and stillness within ourselves, a quiet and stillness that will enable time alone, and naturally bring us to love and care for the Earth and all life, without needing a crisis to enforce it.

About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic. (Profile picture by Shira Aboulafia)
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