Skip to Content

The joy of solitude

There’s no getting around the fact that 2020 has been a crap year for just about everyone. At the end of February, I went to Toronto to celebrate my father’s birthday, which is on March 2nd. A remarkable man. He died at the end of that month, at the same time as we were discovering the scale of the pandemic. While I was back in Canada, Ontario went into lockdown, and due to a confluence of events, it took six months for me to find my way back to London, where I am now in splendid isolation.

During those initial weeks when Canadians were mandated to stay home and unable to socialise, when every breath felt like a threat, learning to cope was next to impossible, which for me was compounded by dealing with grief and the disbelief that my father was no longer with us.

The situation I find myself in now, cocooned in my flat, is quite the opposite, and this period of confinement at home is the most peaceful I have felt in months. I am bubbling with myself, and apart from my cooking, which is pretty mediocre at best, my stress levels have plummeted.

When I finally decided to return to London, several people asked if I would respect self-isolation or would I cheat, leave my phone at home, ignore the rules and go out. Of course, that never occurred to me, and now I can feel doubly virtuous by doing my civic duty.

For my entire life, possessed with way too much Tigger-like energy, I have tried to outrun death by filling every moment of every day with activities, friends, theatre, travel, work. We’ve bought into the myth that life is about action and achievement, not waking up and smelling the coffee. However, the concepts of gratitude, mindfulness and the acceptance of mental health have helped temper the rigours of our 24/7 life.

Enforced confinement has brought about certain revelations and a sense of contentment that a simple life, albeit in the middle of an urban environment, provides.

Life is easier. There are no choices to be made. I don’t have to decide which friends to see or where to go for dinner and before I know it, it’s 5 pm, and I wonder where the day has gone, and this is from someone who has worked from home for years.

Amazon has helped me pass the time, and it’s like Christmas every day. I’ve had white rocks delivered to improve my garden and a new electric toothbrush. I have a new member of my family, my robot vacuum. It has a delightful personality but sadly no sense of direction as it has trouble navigating the relatively empty floor. I love watching it spin across the room, and I delight at rescuing it when it attacks a chair or table leg, as if it’s a small being whom I have to look after. Nor does it judge me when I get out of bed and decide that washing my hair can wait another day.

I have the time to do the things that I have put off because there was always something better to do — cleaning my cupboards, admin that has piled up, catching up on books I’ve meant to have read, there are podcasts to listen to, and deep thoughts to think about what I should do with the rest of my life. My father’s death has allowed me to internalise his positivity about life.

Entering into his second year of medical school at McGill University in Montreal, my father and his fellow students were given a copy of A Way Of Life by William Osler, the address he delivered at Yale in 1913. Osler was a Canadian physician and one of the four founders of Johns Hopkins, and these words, taken from that speech, particularly inspired my father: “To have striven, to have made the effort, to have been true to certain ideals — this alone is worth the struggle.” I think about this in quarantine.

When I worry about getting too comfortable in my solitude, I am motivated by high heels. When I lived and reported from Kabul, I persisted in wearing stilettos whenever I could. A friend nicknamed me Heidi High Heels, so I read Miriam Gonzalez Durantez’s article on August 26th about the welcome demise of high-heeled shoes and the universal acceptance of the running shoe with some bemusement. If there is one thing I am looking forward to it’s putting on my new Valentinos when I walk out the front door and stride back into our new normal.