Those of us who live alone and are now in Lockdown here in the UK have had almost three months of enforced isolation. Three months where there has really been no 'encouragement' to shower, to get dressed, to prepare proper meals. Nobody would have known if we had stayed in bed or stayed in our dressing gowns all day. There has been nobody to call out 'is the bathroom free' or 'what time's lunch' from somewhere else in the house. And because nobody has been likely to call apart from the paper girl at eight o'clock and the postman around lunch time - and Edith from down the road, who rings the bell if I forget to take the milk in off the step - a sort of silence has settled over the place and it never goes. It gets ino the brickwork and into the soft furnishings, into the cupboards and into the garage, so that wherever one goes everythings is silent. A pet would make a difference of course - if Tess were still here I wouldn't be alone; Rachel with her four black cats always has company, as does John with his menagerie - fairly silent as cats are (until they are getting hungry) they still have a presence. And John spends a lot of his time communing with his dogs.
Now for most of my friends it is getting a bit tiresome - we are ready for some sort of release. We are forgetting our words, struggling with remembering things, unable to do simple things on the computer - our brains are going into neutral. And yet how lucky we are to have so many ways in which to spend our time. We have access to many books, we can choose what to watch on television, we can chat to friends who call (while following the safe distance rule,) we can Zoom as long as we like, we can blog, we can go on Facebook - the list is endless.
Think how much worse things would have been a hundred years ago if a global pandemic had arrived then. No television, not a lot of people had transport, we would have been much more isolated. But maybe we would have been much more adaptable at dealing with it. And we would have known so many people around us - not like today when populations move around so that you can't be sure you will know your neighbour.
My son was speculating the other day on how they would have coped with the global pandemic that was the Great Plague - whole villages would know one another - there would be few strangers - and all would share the trials and tribulations, and would have shouldered the burdens.
But to some, like George MacKay Brown, up there in Stromness in the Orkneys, that silence that comes of isolation, of seeing no-one, of no communication for most of the week, was his chosen way of life. He lies now in St Magnus Cathedral in Poet's Corner alongside Edwin Muir, his friend and mentor. He spoke a lot in his writing about interrogating silence - now he lies in the silence of that great cathedral - the kind of silence that we in our own homes are beginning to feel - a silence that is never ending.