Photo by visuals on Unsplash

I found the Paradox in Isolation.

Quarantine tethered me, and Zoom expanded my life.

While the world unraveled on the evening news, I reinvented myself. The first experiment was Zoom itself. When my doctor went to Zoom-only visits, I had no choice. After that, every day became an experiment. Reality television with a twist.

I turned my living room into a yoga studio. When Sunshine Studio moved online, I followed. There were glitches at first. The setting sun blinded me in the middle of the 6:00 PM classes. It was weird complaining to my laptop that my elbow hurt. It was even weirder when my laptop said, “Dawn, take a wider stance.” (In person or online, Sunshine Studio teachers always made sure your alignment was in line.) Once the details got worked out, I attended more weekly classes than in the old days, when the studio was downtown instead of downstairs.

I joined a co-writing group. Traditionally, I preferred to work alone, in absolute quiet, in my empty room, but I also needed real life mingle-time. Co-writing restored balance. At the beginning of the session, we chatted. After months in isolation, it was exhilarating to talk shop. Last week, we talked about peanut butter, too, which will no doubt be translated into some form of writing. It was a scrumptious smorgasbord of new information about the P.B. After fifteen minutes of chat, our facilitator hit mute. We put our heads down and wrote. I was surprised by how much their effort pushed me forward in mine. I was in good company, and at the same time, I was working alone, in absolute quiet, in my empty room.

I debuted on Broadway. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company offered a dance class. Members of the Ailey II Company were stranded in Kansas City, when New York went into its strictest lock down. A young male dancer, alone in a Kansas City studio, taught jazz moves to a screen full of little squares. I (little square in the lower left corner) was a star during the warm-up, because it felt a lot like yoga. However, when we got to the part where we had to learn actual choreography, my Broadway career appeared less certain. He taught steps faster than I learned them. He was as twisty as a rubber band and as float-y as a dust moat. I was stiff. I tripped over my feet. I fell down. I went right when he said left. Even so, I was grinning till my face hurt. “Let’s try it again. One, two, three, four.”

I meditated with a hundred people. For a few Sundays, I attended in-person services with the Society of Friends, where I got to know Marilyn. As usual, my dedication to church staggered from enthusiastic to perfunctory to nonexistent, but Marilyn and I kept in touch. Responding to my isolation-induced despondency, she invited me to the Friend’s online meditation. At login, my screen bloomed into a hundred living breathing humans on couches, beds, chairs, and porches, with cameos from cats and dogs. New attendees introduced themselves, and I heard introductions from England, Canada, India, Kenya, and all over the US. At the end of the service, everyone said, ”Hello, Friends.” One morning, I heard, “Good Morning, Dawn.” Marilyn’s voice. Marilyn in her chair, waving at me. What a miracle it was to be seen.

I learned to chant. Another of Sunshine Studio’s yoga teachers, who grew up in Mumbai, offered a class in Hindu meditation and chanting. The timing was perfect. Class started at the same time as the evening news. I was addicted to the news, but the news made me sick: depressed, anxious, and mad. I desperately needed a commitment to take me out of the cycle. Chanting class rescued me. The teacher told us stories about the incarnations of Vishnu. She taught us chants she’d learned from her grandmother. While the world spun in turmoil, fighting over which lives mattered, we sat in the quiet and breathed deeply.

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Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes about love and pain. Her latest book is Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room. DawnDowneyBlog.com.