The isolation left a small scar on me. It’s one of those scars you can’t see, like the infertility, like the fear of riots breaking out when I was stuck in traffic, tear gas burning my eyes, like the fear of Shilo struggling to breath in the hospital.
I wasn’t alone when I felt the most isolated. There was Yassine bringing a live chicken to my door, loads of kids climbing our fence to see the white people and their big black dog, a housekeeper in our house folding our clothes and hauling water for us, making Shawn and I argue in English with a smile so she couldn’t understand our words or read our body language, people knowing every move we made, and asking 1,000 culturally appropriate questions about our day, our spouse, if we had electricity, if we had news from our families, and if we were in good health or not. This was the routine every single time we left our house, and every single time someone came to our house. (In other words, all the time.)
We were not alone, we were surrounded by people, inquiries, community, friends, friendly faces. But, at least in the beginning, these were people we didn’t know or understand. It was an isolation of being close physically, but their culture, their fetishes and charms, their language, how they ate the parts of a goat, how they washed their clothes, how their marriages worked, how they raised their kids, how they went to the market for one onion at a time, was so foreign to me that it left me feeling like I was in the middle of a loud room where everyone could see me and talk to me, but I was in a glass cage and couldn’t communicate back to them. It hurt that I couldn’t get pregnant and the women all around me spent their days having, raising, caring, swatting at, clothing, feeding, laughing at, yelling at, and talking about their children. It was another level of disconnect even though I was sitting right there with them on the bright plastic mat, helping pick bugs out of the rice. I was isolated in my own world. But it wasn’t my world it was their world. At least in the beginning.
Now I’m isolated again, but this time physically isolated in a place where I speak the language and I know the people because their culture (for the most part) is my own. I’m laying low in my own home because a virus is threatening our world. We remind each other that God knows and sees and cares. And he DOES. I count my blessings because I have a lovely home far beyond the shacks we’ve shared in the past. I count my blessings because I get to be with my girls and play with construction paper and (supposedly) washable markers. And then, sitting there with my phone in hand, I’m once again trapped in isolation. I scroll scroll scroll for connection since I can’t meet, gather, or congregate right now. But social media is a false sense of connection. I love seeing your kids grow, your beautiful bathroom reno, that funny meme about toilet paper in trees, but do you care about me? Do you know me? Do I know you? How are you really doing? Are we going to check in on each other? We’re staying in because it’s recommended, because it’s the best way for us all to protect ourselves and those who can’t protect themselves. But we’re no stranger to laying low, to staying in. We had a case of Ebola in quarantine across the street from where we lived in Dakar. And Ebola was a much more certain death sentence. (Some) Americans are losing their minds right now and stocking up like the world will end by Thursday. Some are being escorted out by armed guards (#texas) when they throw a fit over how much toilet paper their family NEEEEEEDS. The entitlement leads me to feel critical which leads me to feel lonely. “I don’t understand these people! I’m not like that… (am I?). I can’t relate.”
Suddenly I’m back on that bright plastic mat picking bugs out of rice and I am a stranger in my world. But this time it’s a world with every ease and convenience and comfort (on a good day), a language I understand, but a world where we have to run to keep up, we don’t eat nearly enough meals together, or invite people over (no matter the mess), and the connection, the real connection, is lacking. As a society we spend every day working 9-5 (Dolly version), scrolling when we get a chance, and not sleeping well. And it all begins again tomorrow.
Now we have a virus that has shut us in.
I wonder if God has a message for us in all of this. (He always has a message if we listen.) Maybe the message is that we can’t outrun or out-scroll our loneliness, or our greatest need. Maybe it’s not what country, context, or culture we’re in that breeds isolation, but who we are running from. God is the only one that will love and comfort and accept us. He already saw us at our worst, AND CHOSE US ANYWAY, when his son Jesus came and took our place on the cross, dying the death that we deserve. Only perfection would do which is why Jesus chose to take our place. We could never be good enough, measure up, or work hard enough. But by placing our faith in what Jesus did for us, the sacrifice he paid for us, on our behalf, we can be saved. And that’s the best news no matter where we find ourselves or what’s happening in our world. He’s the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14.)
He’s not afraid of our germs, our weaknesses, our flaws, our fears, our isolation. He pulls us in and accepts us and offers us the connection we’ve been searching for (or running from).
“You’ve been my Savior, Sustainer, when I’m at my end
My Healer, Redeemer, again and again
My Mother and my Father, Brother, Sister, and Friend
Everything I’ve needed Lord, You’ve always been
Everything I’ve needed Lord, You’ve always been” (this song)