What being #AloneTogether really means
Posted by Alex Smith on 24th December 2020
By Emily Groves
One of my most vivid memories of this year is crying quietly on the phone to my colleague Harry as my train pulled out of London Victoria in March. We were trying to work on a Google Doc together about how to communicate with Love Your Neighbour matches – that their friendships as they knew it, in that moment at least, had to come to an abrupt stop.
It felt scary and unreal. I was sad to not see my colleagues for a month or so. I was excited to lie in the next day, maybe for a few weeks even. I was delighted to not have to catch a train to north London at 5.50am every morning, from my home in Brighton.
I felt fearful that my partner, who among many brilliant things, is a nurse, and whether he would be safe working in a hospital. I worried if we could withstand all the death and sadness that comes with caring for vulnerable people. I hoped we were strong enough to keep all that trauma and regret from getting through the gaps. I prayed that sleep and hearty dinners might plug the painful bits like a draft excluder during Winter Wellbeing.
I laughed at my tendency towards the dramatic, and held onto the fact that it would all blow over by April. Little did I know I’d be staring at the pixelated faces of my colleagues, family and friends, for almost an entire year.
What it means to feel lonely has changed in 2020. Before the virus, loneliness, by its very nature, made you feel singular – it made you feel alone and on your own. It made you feel like only you could ever possibly feel this estranged and stranded from the world. Yet this year, loneliness became something everyone had in common.
It’s famously said that death and taxes are the only universal truths, but I don’t think anyone truly believes they might die until the grim reaper slaps you round the face with a terminal illness, or has a family member with cancer or a near death experience. A global pandemic was a good old right hook to the cheek for all of us. Life is temporary and fragile. That, in its own sad way, united us.
Back in the Spring, in the pink tint of a March sunset, we stood on doorsteps and balconies and clapped for our carers. We were greeted by the strange blinking faces of neighbours we never knew existed, or perhaps that we’d only rolled our eyes at as they played music loud and late on a Sunday.
We hit pans together. We screamed into the night. We said thank you. We recognised that really, we’d been wearing masks all of our lives in the shape of brick walls and ballot boxes and birthdays.
At The Cares Family, we’ve always known about these masks and the things that keep us from connection – and so it was no surprise to me that in a year where we were unable to hold friends and families, we still reached out down the phone, over email and Zoom, and embraced our community, and hugged them.
I’ve witnessed strangers become friends and seen something magical change in our community, when they realised we weren’t going anywhere. I’ve seen my colleagues be both vulnerable and resilient in equal measure. Their bedrooms became offices. Their kitchen tables became post rooms. Their partners and housemates and families had to get used to us all speaking loudly and calmly down the phone.
We looked after each other with virtual teas and texts and an abundance of GIFs. We didn’t let the most painful of moments tear us apart and always looked for common ground and the good in one another. We brought unlikely friends together. No matter what was happening in my colleagues' own lives, no matter what worries and stresses and losses, they still turned up and turned their cameras on for discos and poetry and meetings and sock puppet pantos.
We Zoomed and Zoomed and Zoomed and ZOOMED and never lost touch of The Cares Family magic. Though it’s been an incredibly lonely year, it has been made all the more tolerable by the sense of being alone together.
2021 marks a whole decade of dedication – North London Cares turns 10. Whether you joined our network last week, or many years ago, you have helped us get to this miraculous milestone. Of course I hope that we can celebrate in a community hall and dance the day away, but I also know if that’s still not possible next year, we’ll still find a way to spend time together.