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Reflection by Julie Tonnesen

As I’ve prepared myself for gradually increasing degrees of physical distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve also found that I’ve experienced gradually increasing degrees of anxiety and loneliness. Anxiety is nothing new for me. I’ve lived with a clinical diagnosis for the majority of my 27 years of life. Loneliness, though? That’s been a new one. As an introvert, I’m fairly accomplished at spending time with myself. But something about the intersection of the anxiety and loneliness has felt overwhelming, overbearing.

I’ve chalked it up to the fact that under normal circumstances, I have the choice to keep my own company, but right now, this is not a choice. It’s a directive from those in authority. And to be clear, I’m fully in support of the executive orders and tough decisions our leaders have implemented in order to slow the spread of the virus and, quite literally, save lives. But what that doesn’t mean is that this physical distancing isn’t hard. It is.

What is unique about our isolation in this moment, though, is that it’s this very isolation which unites us. In a very real sense, we are all alone together. And while this loneliness feels new and particular, loneliness in and of itself is not new. As humans were created to live in community, the absence of such community means that loneliness is literally written into our DNA.

While that may sound grim and hopeless, I think there’s great comfort to be found in knowing that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). That even an intensified period of loneliness is nothing that hasn’t been felt or experienced before. That “whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination… announcing your place in the family of things” (Wild Geese by Mary Oliver). May Oliver’s words be a reminder to you this day that you are loved and that there is a place for you, all of you – loneliness included, in the great family of things.

Julie Tonnesen is the Campus Minister for LEAF (Lutherans, Episcopalians, and friends), is the co-advisor for the Interfaith LLC, and works with Protestant Life at Elon. She is also a 2014 graduate of Elon, and earned her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School in May 2019. Julie is a candidate for ordination in the Lutheran church (ELCA). Julie loves supporting students, reading, and spending time outside with her dog, Gracie.

Contact: jtonnesen@elon.edu

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