I have not been in sync with humanity for a long time. I am either falling a step or two behind, or just too far away deep inside my head to understand what’s going on with the rest of the world. Out of the loop, always the last to know, the last to get it…
A not-so-ninja turtle.
This is because I cannot bear being with people in general.
Let me explain. I don’t hate people. On the contrary, I think I love them too much that I let too much of their energies in.
I swim in you…and sync.
Human beings literally make me dumbfounded.
I’m not mute. While of course I can talk and produce sounds with my mouth, I cannot sustain a conversation with anybody for a very long period of time. I find it hard to get a flow going. When something magical as a moment turning into momentum does occur, however, my anxiety kicks in and I just want to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible. I become uncomfortable about going deeper, because doing that has often taken me to very difficult, emotionally-loaded situations. I’d rather just do something by myself, like write an essay or play the piano. Or be with a non-human, like a cat, dog, sugar glider or plant. The visual of a human being with a sharp intelligence and warm loveability sitting in front of me, eyeing me, smiling at me, is often too much stimuli for me to bear. I end up saying the dumbest things, and replay the episode over and over in my head. I imagine you laughing at me, shaking your head at my stupidity and awkwardness.
All that changed in mid-March this year, when everyone in the world was forced to stay home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Offices closed down, and many people migrated to work from home arrangements. Prior to my office job now, I held down a remote working job. My workday today was much like my workday three years ago. Meetings at work were done using audio calls. I rarely got to see any optics of my boss or colleagues.
It was perfect.
I do amazingly well in this kind of arrangement in which I can think about my responses to people a little more instead of mindlessly blurting them out as I am wont to do in a face-to-face conversation. Anything from you blinking your eye to trying to suppress a yawn is an assault on my senses. I cannot unsee you.
But in this COVID-19 world, I can no longer see you in person, and that’s fine, necessary even.
I no longer feel guilty avoiding you for reasons totally unrelated to being anti-social or snobbish. I no longer have to deal with such radiant energy as yourself.
I can compose emails for you and have the time to get them right. I can read and re-read them for clarity and more importantly, tone. Dead air has been replaced with asynchronicity. I’m finally allowed to take my time communicating with you.
For once in my life, the world has synced with me.
You and I – existing side by side in a shared reality.
My normal has become your normal.
I am terrible at listening to you in person, especially when I am being distracted by so much of your beauty.
But now, I finally get the chance to tell you how breathtaking you are in the absolute best way possible.
You say you are not a writer, but when you sit down to check or write your email like I do, I feel like we’re playing an online game together. Finally, we are on the same page.
I marvel at people who are eloquent and spontaneous, like all those Conans and Colberts and that guy who replaced Letterman. But I don’t want to be like them.
I am happy being me, because I make you smile many weeks, or months, or years after the fact.
This COVID-19 world of asynchronicity, silence and solitude has always been my world, and now it is yours too. I’ve never felt so connected to you before.
The buzz of traffic is gone. The roads are clear and I can see where the arteries find the city parks and centres of human movement. These pathways connect to man-made hearts the way these lines are now connecting to your God-shaped heart. I know it when your car or your bike is coming around the bend near the house. Your face and body coming into view against the vastness of a hurriedly emptied world is in clearer relief, and I cannot ask for anything more than this brief but marvelous sighting from my window.
I know that you spend more time than ever cooking food in your home. It has always been my daily reality, and now it’s your reality too. It thrills me to imagine your hands working the pans, how you heat your water, what recipes you are using, how you drink your coffee, how you put food in your pink little mouth.
It’s magical when I hear your voice on the phone. Unnecessary frequencies are cut off and the vowels and consonants are clearer. I love listening to your voice without having to see your face.
You see, I don’t want to fall in love with you any more than I already am.
I come to know you a little better by the way you spend your time, a currency that is now more abundant than your money. You are an artist too, after all, and I am happy that you have begun wearing your heart on your sleeve, singing, playing, dancing, painting, gardening, teaching, sharing, and taking my breath away yet again.
Now I know that you love me too.
Because what is love but a collection of kindnesses recorded and memorized by the heart?
I actually dread the day when the pandemic will be declared over and I may lose you to the punk-rock velocity of the modern world quickly spinning round and round again. You will not be able to resist all this energy and movement. You are young-hearted and restless and attracted to all that is shiny and new.
You want to swim and drown in these energies and not have to write about them.
You just want to live.
I will have remained inside my shell and I’m afraid I might outlive you because of my slowness. Like my colleague once said when I only had one viand on my plate and not helping myself to more at the buffet: I savor. These COVID-19 dream world days when the ground beneath our feet slowed down enough to lay us side by side and savor our many small likenesses and kindnesses, will be making me smile for many years on end. *
This piece was inspired by the Surah Al-Maun (Small Kindnesses), Holy Quran
Praise Be To Allah For His Words