A Million Faces

You’d like Sara. I don’t know who you are, but trust me, you would. She’s warm and kind, with a thousand-watt smile and a great laugh to go along with it. She’s endearing, even when she’s awkward (and she often is). She doesn’t appreciate beer, or sports. She likes to poke fun at my age, even though she’s not much younger than I am. She’s obsessed with Korean TV shows. But she loves history, her voice makes me smile, and she makes me laugh.

Sara is my best friend. She might be the most important person in my life. And I haven’t seen her in about two months.

When the virus arrived and the madness hit, Sara was one of the first to quarantine herself. Between her daughter, her parents, and her grandmother, she just had too much to lose if she got sick. But the loss was mine. Not being able to see her was the first step in a series of events that left me feeling completely isolated. That isolation led to the post Everyday Life, and ultimately to this one.

Right now, isolation is key to our survival. But isolation hurts. We humans are social creatures. We crave companionship, and it’s truly amazing how poor a substitute text or even phone conversation is for in-person interaction. It’s remarkable how easily we can tell the difference. But we miss it. We miss familiar faces. Pictures don’t cut it. The smiles are frozen. Phone calls aren’t enough. We crave reaction, expression. Many times of late, I’ve thought about how devastating this would have been for all of us, had it happened twenty-five years ago. But it didn’t. It’s happening now.

So instead of crushing isolation, this pandemic has been partly defined by faces on a screen: video chat. Having once been a fixture in science fiction, video chat has been around for years, but hadn’t really gained traction outside business circles. Until it became necessary. Until now. Services like Zoom are now household names, as much a part of the quarantine experience as sourdough bread and Tiger King. Now, many of us live each day to escape into a screen. There, we continue our lives online, as best we can.

Children see their teachers through Zoom, as “Zoom Classrooms” have become commonplace for all age groups, from graduate programs to pre-kindergarten. Families gather on Zoom, as do friends. Virtual happy hours and dinner parties, theater rehearsals, family reunions, weddings…goodbyes…are all carried out through devices far apart, to bring their owners just a little closer together. Friends can use Netflix Party to watch movies together. Websites provide virtual board game nights. Close friends and family use FaceTime to exchange smiles, and enjoy an intimate moment from miles away. Video has helped us cope. With the bad, as loved ones have said farewell to family members dying of COVID through iPads. With the good, as choral groups have performed Zoom concerts while isolating. As we are united by trauma, the faces and voices help us feel a little less alone.

I’ve had phone calls with several close friends since I’ve been in quarantine. So far, Sara is the only one I’ve actually seen. FaceTime is hardly a substitute for being together, but for now it’s enough. I worry about her, and all my friends, every day. We’re all hurting in our own way right now, whether from personal tragedies or the overwhelming pain spreading across the world right now. It’s so hard to resist the urge to reach out and take someone’s hand. At the park today, my mother and I ran into friends of the family, and after a brief chat from across the street I walked away almost crying from sheer joy. I miss people. We all do.

But we will have people again. I know I’ll be back at Hop Scotch with Chris and Sara before long. Enjoying trivia nights as we always did. I know I’ll be able to laugh and smile and reconnect with everyone I’ve missed. For now, we’re all doing whatever we can to keep those bonds strong. Across the world each day a million faces on screens remind us that we are not alone. Even when we wear a mask. Even when we’re six feet apart. Even when we have to stay home.

Like everything else, this is all part of the human experience.

We humans are adaptable creatures.

We’ve survived worse.

We can do anything.

And we will get through this together. – MK

This piece is part of an ongoing series, called #WritingthePandemic. I encourage all other writers on WordPress, Twitter, and elsewhere across the world to join me in sharing our stories as we #StayAtHome together.

The picture above is of Sara’s Daughter, Annabelle, participating in a Zoom meeting with her preschool class.

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