The Quarantined Family

COVID-19 is keeping us apart. We’ve stopped having religious meetings. We’ve canceled concerts and cultural events. Children are staying home from school. We’re not going out to eat. Nobody is hanging out in bars or coffee shops. Sports teams aren’t playing anymore. In Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I live, public officials have taken down all the basketball nets in every city park. We’re not even having traditional weddings or funerals. But that’s not the whole story.

In the middle of this turmoil, some people are getting much closer. Suddenly, people who live together are only seeing one another. The concept of family ties is taking on a whole new meaning.

Since my college closed, I’ve gotten to experience three different living arrangements. My first week of self-quarantine was spent with my roommate. For some, this setup can be very stressful. I was stuck in a house with someone who was a complete stranger less than a year earlier. Thankfully, we got along very well. We’ve perfected the art of giving each other personal space. At least I think so.

The next week, I got to experience another now-common living arrangement. Pre-quarantine, I would have said it sounded like reality TV. A family comes together from their separate adult lives. They are forced to spend life in one house with no outside contact until someone cracks. Strangely enough, this is now real life for many of us.

In week two of isolation, I drove from Maine down to Pennsylvania. I found myself sharing a house with my parents, three adult siblings and my grandmother. It was a marked change from having my own apartment. No one cracked, but there did seem to be more drama than usual. For the most part, my family was happy to see me. I was happy to eat my mom’s cooking again.

My family handled my presence heroically. “It’s maybe not as different as you might expect,” my brother Wayne told me. He seems to be holding up well under added family interaction. “In a lot of ways, it’s the same – except with more time,” he said.

In week three, my quarantine shuffle continued. I found an apartment where I could better work from home. I moved in. I now live completely alone. I live only a few blocks away from my parents. My brother James and his wife live a few more blocks away. Being a family in this time has taken on a new meaning. We’ve walked to one another’s houses to leave food on the porch. Sometimes we will stand outside just to talk from a safe distance. And my family has created the long-avoided group chat.

I’ve lived far away from my family for years. Now I’m very close to them, but we never really meet. It is truly a strange time. Now, more than ever, adaptability is key. Technology has often been called an enemy of relationships. Now, it seems to be holding some relationships together. I regularly see my family members on Zoom game nights. Wayne seemed hopeful about the role of the internet in isolation social life. “I think people are being more purposeful,” he said of online interactions.

Empty playground equipment behind my new apartment.

I agree. This is the time to finally create a meaningful online presence. We all know people who are alone or living with people they don’t always want to talk to. The times are unusual. We have to be different from usual. Create a new version of family. Find new ways to connect with friends. Find someone to vent to if you need to vent. Taking the initiative to reach out to somebody can help us all. It’s not easy, but we can do it.