LIFE IN SOCIAL ISOLATION
What does social isolation look like for you? What about quarantine? These are unprecedented times and now more than ever, these words mean something to all of us. So many are struggling with feeling chained inside of our homes, unable to see our friends and family. Unable to hug, unable to hold hands, unable to seek the social connections that make us feel whole. Yet, while we may feel that our lives are isolated, there are others out there who live this reality every day.
This is Loverboy. A melancholy rhesus monkey I met while working inside of an animal research facility. The highlight of my day was getting to see him. Loverboy was named after his gentle demeanor and compassionate touch. Every day, he greeted me with eagerness, reaching his hand out for mine and craving companionship—something so many of us can relate to now.
Painted white cinder blocks enclosed his room and metal walls confined him even more. The cold grated flooring beneath him dug into his soft, yet calloused feet. The floor space in his cage was smaller than my coffee table at home. In this space Loverboy lived, alone.
One day, he stopped eating. I brought him bananas, apples, and peanuts. Everything I could find that would be more enticing than his standard dry monkey chow diet. Still—he wouldn’t eat. I sat down on the floor to be at his level. While the cold cement pierced through my blue scrubs, I rested my hands on the bars as my eyes sighed with his. What’s wrong, Loverboy?
He stared at the floor as he sat cross-legged with his hands folded together in his lap. His somber look was a constant. I grabbed a handful of miniature marshmallows and reached into his cage, holding them out for him. He scooted himself closer and gently cupped one hand under mine while meticulously picking out the marshmallows one at a time. Soon we sat in a tangled mess of limbs.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Loverboy’s desire for connection, even a few minutes in between bars, was so intense that he purposely stopped eating. He made this choice. So every day, I would sit next to him for as long as I could and he’d hold one of my hands with his while slowly picking the food out of my other hand.
He would only eat while we held hands and this left me with an aching feeling that will never go away. I wished I could have given him more. More time, more closeness, more love. It’s all he wanted.
There are millions of animals just like Loverboy locked inside windowless buildings and trapped behind metal bars who don’t ever get to hold anyone’s hand. Who don’t get to feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, soft grass under their feet, and something most us take for granted, freedom.
So while we sit on our comfortable couches, eating popcorn, and binge watching our favorite Netflix series wondering when life will get back to normal again. Animals like Loverboy wonder the same thing, but they live a different pandemic. One where normal means something else. While for us it will be a brief stint of what’s trending as social isolation, for them, it’s life.
This is an opportunity for reflection. A time for us to really connect to and understand what others who have far less than us experience on a daily basis for years or even decades. It’s a chance for us to do better. For them and us.