Dear Stranger: Rachel Burke

Dear Stranger,

Thank you for your kindness. The passing eye contact, the smile. You brightened my day. In a time where there are government bans on handshakes and hugs, stockpiling of hand sanitiser, eerie Handmaids Tale-esque streetscapes; pedestrians walking two by two, it’s the little things that I appreciate more than ever.

The past year has been strange for me, notwithstanding a global pandemic and all. For over 13 months I’ve been socially isolating in an attempt to manage my chronic and severe endometriosis. I’ve had multiple surgeries in a short time and have been undergoing a controversial chemo treatment typically used for prostate cancer patients. With chemical menopause a delightfully awful side effect, for most of 2019 I was house bound, struggling to wean myself off opioid painkillers while battling the transition from full time work to at-home ‘patient’. The adjustment was heartbreaking, shocking – isolating.

After time, I was forced to come to terms I carved up my days and punctuated them with cups of tea drunk in different rooms of the apartments. I invested in a cosy rechargeable heat pack and comfy trackpants (a cruel twist of the disease is that it can cause pregnancy style bloating while simultaneously putting your fertility into question). I organised my Tupperware drawer. I cried a lot.

Curiously, I didn’t write or create music, as much as I had anticipated I would. Nor did I master a new hobby. For me at least, creativity was not born from solitude.

Now, in the midst of this pandemic, I feel as though I have unwittingly been developing coping strategies for this very situation. The social isolation, the lack of employment, the not being able to go outside as much as you would like and the mental anguish that comes from all those things happening at once.

While I can’t offer a cure-all, there are no turmeric lattes or celery juice fixes for this, I do feel now, more than ever, that kindness matters.

With the flurry of zoom meetings, virtual house parties and meet ups, tips and suggestions for how to stay positive during lockdown, I’m finding that the smallest human interaction can often mean the most – particularly for anyone who has been housebound for a time – be it through chronic or mental illness, parenthood, age, disability, unemployment, heartbreak …

This leads me to think about when this is all over (because it will be over). I’ll be sad if things go back to ‘normal’ if that normal doesn’t’ include checking in on those who might have been feeling isolated before this all began. For many, pandemic or not, life is spent relatively alone. It is my hope that in the rush to regain normal we spare a thought for those who might be left behind in the rush.

In the meantime, thank you stranger, for that nod of acknowledgement as we moved to distance from each other on the pavement. As I write this, I’m nodding back.

x Rach

Rachel Burke