Sharon Lowen | Friendship in the time of Covid
Since our first confinement, I felt no urge for long phone conversations with friends who were getting by in a familiar way
So much has changed in our interactions with others, both in person and virtually, since BC (pre-Covid). Our relationships with friends, friendly acquaintances and relatives who are also friends are as varied as can be with all our individual differences, but it has also been indicative of how we position ourselves among them. I know some people who feel that friendships require constant contact and availability. Others, like me, believe that reconnecting after long hiatuses will instantly bring us to the joy of trusting and sharing ups and downs.
Since our first confinement, I have felt no urge for long phone conversations with friends who were getting by in a familiar way. I was not afraid of disappearing from collective or individual consciousness; no FOMO (fear of missing out). But now I wish I had reached out more, as I will never have the opportunity to connect with those who died of Covid or other causes during isolation again.
While comfortably cocooned at home, “zooming” around the world teaching or speaking on panels, my daughter and son-in-law made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. To ease their anxiety during our May 2021 lockdown, they begged me to get out of Delhi until the health services could cope via air tickets from them to where it seemed safer.
Traveling around the world just to visit friends hadn’t been on my radar, so this was an amazing, unexpected trip that was a pretty deep dive into several universes of people who were dear to me and who welcomed me with confidence in their individual worlds. A cousin from Chicago said, “We all have friends and we all have parents, but sometimes it’s both.” I walked into their world of dog walkers and community barbecues in Hyde Park, long walks and the shooting deaths of at-risk students at Last Chance High School to which they dedicated their lives through administration, skills computers and the teaching of Shakespeare.
Across Lake Michigan, I was the first to break the isolation of home by dining at a restaurant reminiscing about the puppeteer masters of yesteryear. I joined them in their timed three-minute rotation of exercise machines strategically spaced around the living room, kayaking, biking and experiencing The Lion King from the stage in a virtual reality headset. As I traveled across America, I shared the routines of friends who drank and didn’t drink coffee or tea, ate breakfasts or didn’t, or dined on fabulous vegetarian salads or mustard fish. Most importantly, we shared the trials and tribulations of life, children, family, health, creativity, aging and more. What greater gifts could friendship offer?
My visits to several cities on the east and west coasts of America, a few islands in between and three Hawaiian islands have all evolved with the intention that my stays be mutually nurturing and not as my grandfather used to say (“after three days, the fish and the guests start to stink”). Fortunately, each choice turned out to be meaningful and a pleasure.
A chance email from Tik-Tok asking how I was doing in Delhi led me to visit a previously unknown part of America – Asheville, North Carolina. Friendly acquaintances from Delhi’s expat community became multi-dimensional friends forever as I hiked the private trail they had created on their property with a sunset viewing deck occasionally visited by bears! We explored the warehouses and streets of artists’ and craftsmen’s studios, the historic sites of Black Mountain College which was one of the main engines of the American avant-garde in the visual and performing arts from 1933 to 1957. I inhaled the charm of the South amidst a spirits free environment.
My main base of friendship was my “sister” in Northern Virginia, daughter of my first Manipuri dance teacher from 1969 at the University of Ann Arbor. She and her husband were the kind you can land on and be welcomed with open arms for as long as you can stay. Our story would be a book so I’ll just say there was a lot to share.
About 40 years ago, I facilitated the adoption from India of my girlfriend’s two children from San Diego. Now an adult, it was amazing to connect with them and smile as the adult children and mother shared their worries about each other! An unexpected deep dive into the Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Japanese and European/American ethos of Hawaii, Oahu (Honolulu) and Maui, materialized after my daughter suggested, “Why not visit to our cousin in Hawaii?” In this universe atop lava rocks with wandering wild goats, I entered a slowed down period of self-sufficiency where the details of life could be fully focused.
I enjoyed the peaceful energy of a retired Buddhist friend from the Foreign Service who swims a daily mile in Waikiki and cooks soup and meals for his locked in the building and other grateful friends. I struggled not to vibrate with the sympathetic electrical energy, like a small fever, of friends who live with constant anxieties.
An earlier regret of being out of the United States was never having met a close cousin’s three children. This was wonderfully solved by a visit during the major Jewish holiday, which gave me the opportunity to meet my cousin’s extended in-laws. The prominent Jewish family of Calcutta Baghdadi in their line was just one part of the multi-textured web of bonds we wove during our days together.
Discover the world of children’s ice hockey, hear about a dramatic recovery from an accident, witness the preparation of a home for staging and sale, understand some of the challenges of television production in times of Covid and even the thrill of realizing that only the two of us knew certain family stories shared by my mum/aunt – none of this could ever have been communicated via Facetime or Zoom.
The Bay Area was for me a cornucopia of friends from school, college, India over the past 50 years, various artists and indophiles, a cousin and meeting my online cosmologist student Odissi.
My connecting travel diary with friends had many wonderful experiences, but the main takeaway was the privilege of being welcomed into their personal worlds.