Aside from the threat of imminent, hideous death by asphyxiation, I have never felt so supremely happy as during the pandemic. As an introvert, I’d always suffered as an invisible minority, a person who craved quiet in a noisy world. Cities assumed everyone wanted a stadium or a convention center. With successful bond-raising efforts and, once built, a full schedule, it appeared people loved to gather. Baffled, all I could do was shake my head and stay away. My adult son couldn’t believe I’d never attended a rock concert. “You could’ve seen the greats in their prime, the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd,” he said, confounded.
“But the concerts were crowded and noisy,” I said, even though I knew this made no sense to him. However, those reasons meant everything to me. I would sooner face Hell than a rock concert.
I’ve always wondered why society considered solitary confinement a punishment. If I’d been an exceptionally good prisoner, I could imagine the matron rewarding me, “Kaethe, you’ve earned the highest inmate honor we bestow, a month all by yourself.” How I would beam with joy and relish the anticipated stillness.
Now, during the pandemic, society sent me comforting messages: stay inside, keep six feet away from other people and never gather with more than ten, isolate, stay home from work, don’t congregate with more than ten folks. They described a homebody’s heaven.
All my life, I’ve forced myself to socialize because I should enjoy it, according to friends, family, therapists and self-help books. I attended temple, performed jobs with groups of people, did volunteer work at a museum and other organizations. Suddenly, last month, our mayor and governor told us to do the opposite. I felt like I’d shed a heavy burden I’d carried for a lifetime.
My world is a wonder now. For the first time, I could be exactly who I’ve always been on the inner level. When I canceled all my meetings and my work schedule, I demonstrated good citizenship, a complete amazement to me. I skipped around my condo, humming to myself. When I wore myself out, I meditated for as long as I wanted. I worked in solitude in my art studio, happy as could be. I called a friend or family member once in a while, when it suited me, one phone call approximately every three days. I took long walks, staying six feet away from others. As required by my city, I wore a face mask and felt more relaxed. I didn’t have to wear lipstick or make-up, those fussy societal requirements for women. I understood how the Middle Eastern face coverings for women might be nice for them.
This may be the only time in my life that I’m able to fully be who I truly am, an out-of-the-closet loner. For the first time, I openly loved my solitude and felt fully appreciated by my culture for adhering to those standards. Being an artist, I’d relished my streak of rebelliousness, regarded as essential for a creative person. I hadn’t realized how much society’s approval meant to me.
I felt badly that I’ve been enjoying this time while others suffered a terrible illness. Apparently, possible death was the only force that could make solitary behaviors become the norm in society. At least, if I get sick and it becomes my time to go, I’ll die happy, a fulfilled introvert.