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The Exile of a Pandemic


Making friends as an adult is a lot like dating.


You find someone online, slip into their DMs, then make plans to meet up. You debate how long you should wait before asking them to go out again (or in my case, out for another run). Maybe they text you first and you feel flattered. It's third person funny while self-conscious and awkward.


I don't know what happened in the last year of isolation, but something did. Is everyone's social anxiety spiking? I got a haircut recently, and I sweated in the chair trying to make small talk. Pitted out sweated. I forgot how to interact with real humans.


It took a year in Albuquerque before I started meeting people, but I recently made a new friend: we both have long nearly-black hair that we wear the same, she and her sister are eight years apart like me and mine, she loves Trader Joe's and seltzer water, she sends me routes she designed of 28 milers (with 7k gain) labeled "Sounds Like Fun?" etc. I could go on. She's perfect. We signed up to run a 50 miler together this May.


But I have a confession: the first few times we ran together, I felt nervous and had doubts chattering in my ears. I felt unqualified to be anyone's friend. I certainly told myself I was less-than.

I think I know why. When I got sober, I really overturned the table to get there. In one swift month, I disappeared into rehab and when I emerged, I packed up my footprint and sped out of Minnesota. I lost friends and I imagined that I lost friends, I wasn't emotionally available for several weeks (arguably months), I put twelve hundred miles between me and home. When you find your life at any kind of legitimate low, it probably severed some relationships to fall that far. Even if somehow it didn't, you still worry deeply that it did.


Then I moved even further to New Mexico. No friends, no family around. When the pandemic came, it was a strange insulator. Everyone was separated, the running community was quiet, and I felt tucked away in the southwest. In many ways it was healthy because I had room and time to grow on my own, but it was also a form of exile.


"When an individual's needs are at odds with the group or relationship,

they must break into new ground, either by choice or by divine intervention.

More often than not, we resist, ignore, or reject these calls to attrition.

We leave our roots planted in the shallow soil of false belonging

for whatever benefits they might be affording us.

But if we haven't been listening to the early warning signs

of restlessness, doubt, and longing,

one day a strong gust of fate will blow through our lives

and knock us right out of that soil."


-Toko-pa Turner


Toko-pa would call this uprooting the initiation into exile: the separation of yourself from the soil of "home," which she defines as: "the way things were in a broader sense, a golden era, a cherished relationship, a role in your community or family, a career track, or even in the ability of your own body."


We've all been exiled, at least a little bit, in the last year. I think a lot of us have struggled more than we post about or know how to lean on each other for. In this exile there is a fundamental aloneness. At least at the start of it.


I think the easier route is in false belonging. I stayed for years in a relationship that was too shallow to take root in, but I lacked the clarity and courage to leave. And, as much as I adore the midwest and I have nothing but good things to say about it, my heart is in the mountains and out west. My people are sun-leathered with scratched up legs and eat dry baby organic bananas. The ironic point is: I stayed lonely because I knew when I left it would be so lonely. I stayed in a place with the small benefits that were afforded to me because it was what I had. I thought leaving would cost everything (and everyone).


Don't get me wrong; exile can be expensive. But, it did not cost me the friendships with people who understand even a smidgeon of the gritty complicit irony of what life is. I did not lose the midwest, I did not lose those people. The people who have been uprooted, or uprooted themselves, and faced exile have stuck around in my corner. The nameless fear of venturing to new soil, whether chosen or forced, diminished with both time and friendship.


Back to this idea of ''fate," which I think Jung was probably smart about since I don't believe in fate: I invited my own mad wind to uproot me by creating a storm.

A note on "fate."

Your real needs will surface. You can't live a life of delusion and denial. I mean, I guess you can. Those people are psychos and awful friends, parents, spouses. When I was living in cognitive dissonance and lying to myself about it (also privately drinking to shush my own convictions), I was awful too. Instead of excusing myself neatly and counting my losses, I cataclysmically self-destructed. I fumbled the play badly by not caring anymore. The unconscious became painfully conscious in the form of emotional addiction.


Anyway, the real passion behind this share is the thing I've learned about exile:


"Exile is an important and necessary separation from the group or society,

meant to bring us into relationship with our resilience and originality."


I can see it now, looking behind me. Not unlike an ultramarathon, the dawn always comes (eventually) and the night starts to make sense in retrospect. What once seemed lonely and threatening has lost power. I really do think that the universe rewards courage. I can't prove it, but I have faith that it's true (what's the old saying, Fortune favors the brave?). Plus, it's pathetically defeatist to believe otherwise.


My own exile was dramatic and self-inflicted; I do not recommend the route of implosion. However, fate bucks most of us every now and again. Exile takes many forms, and I want to extend a little sunlight to those in isolation. In a very shared sense, many of us are slowly coming out of isolation riddled with anxiety and rootlessness. I would encourage you to view it through this lens (that I stole from a book): as an opportunity to express your own resilience and originality.

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