Sherry Kagan Segal
Sherry Kagan Segal is COO of Mecomi and has been involved with start ups and tourism for most of her life. Born in the US, she and her family split their time between Israel and Martha’s Vineyard. She is a bookaholic and will be writing blogs on occasion for Mecomi.
04/19/2021 Sherry Kagan Segal
Home Alone (Kind of)
I have been thinking a lot about loneliness lately—the difference between being alone versus being lonely.
Through my job at Mecomi, I have read many interesting, and in my opinion sad, articles about loneliness. A recent piece in Harvard Magazine found that “loneliness was rising even before the pandemic.” And since the outbreak a year ago, loneliness, and the very real physical ailments linked to it, have only gotten worse. According to research from Brigham Young University, the heightened risk of mortality from loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. It even exceeds the health risks associated with obesity.
COVID-19 and all the complications due to isolating, quarantining, and unemployment have merely exacerbated an already existing situation. We all know that it is easier to connect because of technology. But social media sometimes makes us feel worse.
“See how happy everyone else is?”
“See how that guy I barely knew in high school looks like he is super successful and content, despite everything going to s%^*t?”
It can make us feel more alone.
Knowing all this, I nevertheless departed to the US for three weeks in January, including one week of self-isolation. I travelled with the intention of spending time with my mom in NYC, but I didn’t want to go directly to her apartment for fear of possibly contaminating her. So, I went to my house in the middle of the woods in Massachusetts and stayed there by myself. It was cold. It rained. Then it snowed. And some days, I didn’t leave the periphery of my isolated property. One day, I shoveled snow. But basically, I was home alone, cooped up inside, reading about loneliness. I missed my family and friends. I missed my dog. But in spite of all this, I never felt lonely. I connected with my family via video daily. I participated in conference calls with my Mecomi team. I took Bar Method workout classes live via Zoom, where my favorite teacher telling me to hold my arm straighter or lift my head higher kept me not only fit, but connected. I was alone, but I was in control. I could go into the kitchen and make myself something to eat or sit outside on my beloved rocking chair, bundled up and watching the snow. For the first time in a long time, my time was completely my own. I joined my family virtually for dinner a few times, and although it was difficult to see them sitting around the table, having fun without me, I was OK. I was alone, but not lonely.
I eventually returned to NYC to see my mother, planning to head home to Israel shortly after. But then the government closed Ben Gurion airport to all incoming and outgoing flights. I returned to the woods to wait it out in the comfort of my solitude.
Finally, after five weeks away, I was “allowed” to return to Israel. But instead of isolating in my own home, I was sent to a so-called Corona hotel. I cried at the airport when officials broke the news. I was taken to my room and told I couldn't leave it. Under any circumstances. No kitchen. No rocking chair. No going outside. I could still do my workout classes. I could still join video conferences. But I was stuck inside a small hotel room. So, I did what I usually do when I am down. I read books and watched trashy TV shows. And then I posted something on Facebook describing how I felt. It was in Hebrew, but this is the translation:
I have been thinking about whether or not to write something, and I decided I would share some of my thoughts. I am posting in Hebrew because honestly, I am a little embarrassed that the country I love so much, the country I chose to live in, is treating its citizens this way.
I went to the States on January 22 to see my mom (who is doing great) and got stuck there. I couldn’t be vaccinated because I follow the rules, and I was “too young.” And then there wasn’t enough time for both shots before my departure. I was only “allowed” to return on February 26, and from what I observed, I was one of the lucky ones.
Newark Airport was a mess. Two people checking the documents of hundreds of people. And those who had already checked in but weren’t allowed to board had to have their bags removed. We took off three hours late. And then when I landed, I was shipped off, in tears, to a “Corona hotel,” where I am stuck for the next ten days. I have been told that only 1 in 50 get sent to the hotels. I’m not sure if that is true, because there is an entire hotel full of people stuck here with me. Some are demonstrating. I am following the rules and staying in my room. I hear about the demonstrations from my daughters, who send me links to the news stories.
I have never broken quarantine. I can easily quarantine in my house.
Why is it worth it for the government to waste money on my stay in one room with no balcony or the ability to go outside? To send me inedible food? To scream at me over the intercom system that I must return to my room or be fined 5000 NIS? Because someone else broke quarantine? Because other people faked their documents?
Can anyone explain this? Or get me out of here?
And then a wonderful thing happened. People started reaching out to me. Friends called, cooked and delivered food. They ordered take out and had it sent to me. A former co-worker who I hadn’t spoken to in a while sent ice cream. Yes, a kilo of salted pretzel, and peanut butter flavored ice creams arrived at my hotel room door. My Mecomi team sent sushi. At one point I had so much food, I shared it with the hungry guy in the room next door. (No, I didn’t break quarantine. We met in the corridor when I opened the door to accept a delivery.)
People sent messages. A former hotel business colleague asked if he could help, and after he spoke with the Corona hotel’s general manager, I received a call and a fruit platter from her. My daughter brought me things she thought I would want from home (including my espresso machine). My Spanish teacher sent me supportive messages in Spanish. (Yes, I could read them.)
And you know what happened? Even away from my family, friends and dog, stuck alone in a situation I had been dreading, away from my peaceful house in the forest and even the closer one where everyone I loved was waiting for my return, I still didn’t feel lonely. I caught up with friends I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some were admittedly ambulance chasers, wanting to hear “just how bad it was.” But most were simply reaching out. I had—I have—so much love. And support. How could I possibly be lonely?
I was still isolating when, due to a change in government policy, hotel isolation was cancelled and me and my fellow inmates were released a few days early. My daughter came to pick me up at midnight (thank you, Talia, for that), and I said: “Get into the car and DRIVE. Let’s get out of here before they change their minds again.”
Once home, I wrote a follow-up post on Facebook:
I had my second COVID test yesterday and tested negative. I am now, as they say, home free. My three week trip to the US ended up being six weeks away from home. But somehow, I feel stronger because of it, more confident in my inner ability to cope, to entertain myself, to appreciate all the people who surround me.
Because of them, I didn’t feel lonely, or really even alone. I felt strong. Because other people were there for me. Some were family. Some were close friends. But others were just caring people who reached out. Those people listened to me and supported me. They provided a connection with the outside world. And those connections are what got me through what should have been a very lousy time, but what instead proved to be an amazing learning experience.
P.S. While writing this, I googled synonyms for “alone” and found these words:
Is that what alone really means? I’m not convinced.