Finding strange catharsis

Around a month ago, I went from cruising happily through my last semester of college to a screeching halt at my parents’ home, socially distanced in the suburbs. In my quest to feel something — anything — besides a vague existential dread while home with my parents, sisters, dogs, cats and turtle, I’ve looked in every direction.

I crocheted a whole afghan. I baked pies, cinnamon rolls and cardamom buns. I watched all seven seasons of Mad Men and a wild assortment of movies. I dressed in everything from bellbottoms and wedge heels to beaded tops with red lipstick. I scrolled through all my photos from study abroad. I shared Zoom happy hours with high school friends, study abroad flatmates, and J-School classmates. I rollerbladed, did yoga and took  my sewing machine apart to figure out why it had been jamming for four years. I then fixed it and taught myself how to sew face masks for inevitably stressful grocery runs. I wrote essays, read books, applied to jobs. Some days that’s enough. Other days it’s not even close.

On one very low day, a friend recommended that I watch “The Kindness Diaries.” This documentary series lives on Netflix and, in its second season (the one I watched) follows one man – former London broker Leon Logothetis — on his journey to drive from Alaska to Argentina in a vintage VW beetle. The catch is that he has no money, gas, or food. He can’t accept money either — only acts of kindness from people he meets along the way who pay for his gas, buy his meals, or invite him to stay a night in their home. The “surprise” is that Leon is actually wildly wealthy and provides massive, often sentimental gifts to the people with whom he connects the most. This formula, though repetitive,  still checks all the boxes for a properly heartwarming hour and, as I watched episode after episode, I just kept crying. 

Is it groundbreaking? No.

Is it my new favorite? No.

Is it attention grabbing? Not particularly. 

But here’s what it is: one person on an adventure, traveling hundreds of miles through unfamiliar destinations and affectionately, gratefully hugging virtually everyone he meets. 

That’s the catharsis of watching The Kindness Diaries in quarantine. All my desires — to hug tightly, to be in crowded spaces pressed against other bodies without fear, to experience the world again in such a messy, physical way — play out in front of me, just out of reach. 

Remember when we could touch stuff? Remember thinking about how dirty your phone might be and just putting it in the back of your mind? Remember when you didn’t wash your hands first thing upon arriving home? Remember catching rides on planes and buses and trains — all definitely  bacteria-laden — and shaking hands with strangers? Remember touching your face? Sharing drinks and food with your friends? Remember doing all of it without even thinking?

I’m craving it, every bit of it. I want the loving security of a friend holding my wrist tightly as I do the same for another behind me and we weave through a packed street. I want to sleep with my cheek pressed against a dirty plane window and wake to see the show of cotton-puff clouds on open water. I want to sleep in a somewhat horrifyingly humid hostel room full of snoring strangers and 3 a.m. stragglers. I want to sit shoulder to shoulder at the best sunset-watching vantage point in every city, sharing a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine while reveling in it all.

I’m not quite sure I really remember all of these things, or that I will again whenever this ends and we find what our new normal might be. But for now, I’m blubbering over a Netflix documentary and telling everyone how much I love them from six feet away. 

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