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The solitude I have been given

A few weeks ago, when life was still semi-normal but heading towards isolation and lockdown, and as the government started advising older people and those with health issues to stay at home, our Provincial Team made some decisions. I and a few other sisters were asked to be available to support those who might need help with shopping or other needs. Consequently, ten days ago I moved out of my community, and into a nearby property we reserve for self-catering hospitality, where I can be close to both my community and some other sisters.

And thus I moved, effectively, from community into isolation - or rather, into a very different way of living community, locally and more widely. We cannot meet, my sisters and I; or if we do, we stand far apart, just as so many others, here and around the world are having to do. Like other families and networks, we are finding new ways in which to remain connected, and to live our strong spirit of Cor Unum - one heart and one spirit in the Heart of Jesus. For us, as for everyone else, this can be a challenge as well as a time of deepening and discovery in our relationships. Likewise my work: the purpose and mission remain unchanged, maybe even more starkly highlighted, while the ways of carrying it out were drastically altered in the space of a few days, and continue to evolve, alongside needs and situations.

Meanwhile, here I am in my isolation, working from home, in this strange, counter-intuitive, uncharted and potentially lonely territory. I'm an extravert, but also an only child, accustomed to a certain degree of solitude, which I often find restorative - and I have very happily lived alone before now. But of course, there is a world of difference between solitary living in normal times, and now, in the middle of a highly infectious pandemic.

But isn't solitude something I often say I crave, along with silence and more time for prayer and reading? Well, now I've got it: not the solitude I would have wished for, with panoramic views, and woodland for walks, a singing silence, switched-off phone and no ongoing anxieties or fears... but the solitude I have been given: a small terraced house and garden in a corner of London; a virtual lockdown; a switched-on phone and connections; and so many anxieties and preoccupations (especially for my family in northern Italy).

And, thanks to a tweet the other day from my Carmelite friends, a reminder that, however un-ideal this solitude in isolation, I am not alone - and I can choose, daily, hourly, to not be alone. As St Teresa wrote in Chapter 26 of Way of Perfection...

Since you are alone, strive to find a companion... What better companion than the Lord himself? Believe me, you should remain with so good a friend as long as you can. If you grow accustomed to having him present at your side... you will find him everywhere. Do you think it's some small matter to have a friend like this at your side?

This is my current isolation - the solitude I have been given, and from which I will be writing in the foreseeable future. And throughout, may we remain connected, and pray for each other, as we seek to remain in good health, and to be of good cheer.