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Diary of a quarantined sociologist - day 7
By Sarah Burrage
Posted on 9/16/2020 12:13 PM

There are a few key things on my mind today as I reach this pinnacle halfway point to my stay at the Hotel Quarantine. One is how much I am going to miss the food provided to me here. Last night, I kid you not, I had some of the best Indian food and naan in years.This morning’s breakfast was a huge serving of bircher muesli that I topped with fresh yogurt, fruit and berries.  At the risk of spending this entire day talking about just food, however, I should probably move on to the other main thing on my mind today, and that is the sheer generosity and kindness shown to me while here. Again, this is through care packages of food (alright alright I’ll stop!) human hygiene products (my friends know me too well), and a general just focus on my well-being. I have received an incredible amount of support from friends of mine who experienced quarantine themselves or had close contact with someone who did. Within 24 hours they were calling me to keep my spirits up, sending messages of love, along with coffee and Coles orders of treats to my room. Relatability is a powerful motivator. Of course, I also had some wonderful friends who did not share in this experience and who have been keeping me company throughout the days; all of which has been most humbling. Beyond the food (and the incredibly comfortable bed), if I can name one thing that made this experience positive it was the presence of these friendships. The time spent talking with and connecting to important people in my life; people whose genuine friendship prompts them to demonstrate care and generosity to my well-being.

Human companionship is such a powerful thing. The impact of deep and meaningful relationships on the human mind cannot be underestimated. A few years ago I read a book by Matthew D. Lieberman (A professor and specialist in social cognitive neuroscience) called Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. Despite the sheer number of acronyms following his name and the nature of the content (I am definitely no neuroscientist), Lieberman wrote in a way that even rookies like me could understand. Within this book, Lieberman highlighted that our need to connect as human beings is as fundamental to us as food and water. That the physiological pain caused by rejection or social pain is as impacting and even more long-lasting then that of physical pain. Even among the most introverted of human beings,  there is a fundamental need for genuine social connection and companionship. This of course was not new to me. Having previously worked for a not-for-profit in this space and being a natural extrovert, I felt a deep sense of relatability to the message shared by Lieberman. This is perhaps why I keep referring back to it. Human connection. Friendships. Love and companionship. Even in times of quarantine and isolation, I have been prevented from feeling companionship’s natural antonym; loneliness. I have to acknowledge, however, that being prevented from such feelings of loneliness places me in a position of privilege not afforded to all. 

Loneliness can be extremely powerful and extremely damaging. Stories of human loneliness invoke such a strong sense of empathy because of their relatability; as human beings we can recognize the impacts. There is a reason so many people admitted to crying their eyes out within the first 5 minutes of the movie Up. Why stories like A man called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine draw us in. We see these stories of human loss, loneliness and isolation and we cannot help but imagine (even for a moment) what that must be like. The inspiration for the titular character Eleanor Oliphant came from the story of a woman who lived a solitary existence between work and home, often not engaging with another human being between leaving work on Friday afternoon and returning to work Monday morning. (Spoiler alert) Witnessing the characters' lonely lives transform into those full of meaning through the introduction of genuine relationships (including a talking dog) gives us such joy because often we seek such fulfillment for ourselves. I’ve sometimes found myself feeling guilty around the moments of indulgence I’ve personally experienced this week, whether gifts or chats. However during these trying times I am reminded of the kindness offered to not only myself, but others around me, as we all strive to keep our human fundamentals afloat.