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Confessions of a social non-butterfly

  • Published at 06:38 pm April 24th, 2020
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What is the world’s priority now? Photo: BIGSTOCK

No man (even the most introverted) is an island

Somewhere during primary schooling, I had heard of the phrase, one often repeated at various stages of education afterwards, that man is a social animal. 

From merely a definition to regurgitate in essays and examinations, the piece of wisdom graduated to a pithy tool of elementary analysis in college anthropology classes, and subsequently became a useful gambit of the banter that pretentious folks enjoy from time to time.

In the spring of 2020, it became a lived reality.

See, I have never been a particularly social person flitting from party to gathering to adda every day. Even in the heyday of my youthful college years, my preference was for a small group of friends who shared some commonalities and enough differences to make mutual socializing fulfilling without being boring. 

Trust me, I tried the whole night club, karaoke bar, party bus scene in the 1990s; somewhere in the albums of a friend or two (for those were, mercifully, pre-phone camera days) there is even a picture of me dancing on a table with a friend at the moment when the table collapses and the secretary of state grabs it right before my pride would have taken a hit.

But that party animal was just not me. As time has passed, I have become more comfortable with the idea of being at peace with my own rules of social contact and preferred entertainment. A handful of good friends, a familiar pub like Cheers of Ted Danson fame, a few dozen virtual friends on social media, a faithful dog who runs with me, and a constantly updated personal library … such are the highlights of my social life, and I am quite fine with it.

Or was.

See, abruptly, that simple life of mine was, well, suspended. Within a span of a three or four days, the nodes of my social life -- hanging out with friends, visiting my pub, sipping coffee at my bookstore -- simply disappeared thanks to the emergency regulations rightly put in place to arrest the Covid-19 pandemic that continues to sweep the land. 

The pub is closed, as is the bookstore, and the friends are pretty much staying at their own homes; the occasional video conference suffices for the “happy hour” that was de rigueur around the bar not too long ago. There is catching up pending reading and some writing, and a bit of spiritual reflecting, though none would compare this troika of minimal self- actualization with the powerful words written by Dr Martin Luther King in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail where he advised us to nobly use such solitary time to “write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers.”

The truth is that life has upended for almost everyone, and even the person farthest from the proverbial social butterfly is having to cope with the new “normal.” One can only imagine the anguish and psychological trauma for those who thrive on maximum socializing. All this is part of each of us doing our share to beat an enemy who is as infinitesimal in size as it is deadly in potential. 

For some of us who are relatively privileged, at least for now, with a roof above our heads, food on the table, and Netflix on the screen, the coping has been more bearable than it has been for many. Others have had the heavy burdens of economic hardships made starker by the temporary loss of the comfort that comes with a network of near and dear ones in regular proximity.

One thing is clear now: At the risk of sounding cliché, we are in this together. My parents were trained in researching, diagnosing, and working with little things under the microscope; I know that virus and bacteria have little regard for wealth, privilege, or one’s level of ebullience. The destruction that such organisms wreak affects the social butterfly and the introvert alike … in more ways than one, as we are realizing each passing day.

I keep telling myself that when things get back to status quo ante, whenever that is (and I hope it is soon), my home should be host to a BIG party to make up for the past few weeks. How “big” a party there can be with the few folks I call close friends, I am not sure, but you get the point.

And the point is this, to loop back to proverbs that we learned long, long ago: no man -- even the most introverted -- is an island. 

Hang in there … things will get better. 

Esam Sohail is a college administrator and writes from Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]