Feb 5, 2021 | OPINION | By Mahnoor Rehman | Illustration by Bibi Powers

I am here in my dorm room miles away from friends, family, and loved ones, thinking about what it would be like to have them here by my side, to hug them, and to feel their physical presence around me.

If you’re reading this during the COVID-19 pandemic, away from home, you probably relate to the emotions I am trying to state here. It is hard to make sense of how far we are from each other, even though we see each other on-screen all the time — through apps, calls, and texts. The helplessness hits when you notice the lack of touch, impromptu conversations, and hours of laughter spent with loved ones that we enjoyed before COVID-19.

Isolation can be painful, tiring, and demanding, reminding one of the difficult times, sometimes even of trauma. I always find myself amused and astonished by how much human beings rely on each other for the sake of their sanity. It is a bittersweet process to compromise our own freedom and individualism by understanding and acknowledging our dependency on others. Isolation makes you ponder the importance of connections that make us embrace humility and humanity.

For me, friendship is always the center of life and the space that I occupy in the universe. It is my friends who have saved me time and again and reminded me to wake up, eat breakfast, wash the dishes, water the plants, do my laundry, breathe, heal, and more.

I keep thinking about the times that I have felt weak and powerless. In all those times, I have gone back to the people I love — all the friends who are back home, at school, in different cities, on different continents. They have loved me and allowed me to love them.

The process of healing in and from quarantine includes texting my friends who are miles away about the last poem that I read or sharing the Spotify list I made that one evening spent on the rooftop of my favorite city. 

The pandemic has extended the miles that exist between us exponentially. I feel that I am far away from the energy that my friends bring me, energy I had relied on for years. In the past couple of months, I have been journaling my feelings. The acknowledgment of distance is important, but so is the acknowledgment of unity and togetherness in these uncertain times.

I am grateful to think of all the cities and streets that have led me to such beautiful friends. We are all in this together, each of us with unique challenges, but with shared feelings of longing, missing someone, and being missed. These times require us to sympathize and empathize, check up on our loved ones, and practice kindness. These are the times to cherish all the little things that can spur a spontaneous smile.

The distance we share covers space. We need to fill that space with an appreciation for all that we’ve survived the last year, the friendships we were able to maintain, the care that we have felt for strangers. We need to hold on to each other and pray for days when we will be able to sit at a cafe and tell our loved ones how much we care, face-to-face.

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