This year, I have learned a lot about virtual and physical connections. I have learned different ways to connect with my friends when I can’t actually be near them. I have learned how to be close to someone, without actually being physically close. I have also realized that even if my social life is virtual, I sometimes need space to recharge.
One way I have learned to stay close to my family is by having weekly Zoom meetings with the Indian half of my family. We sometimes play online games, share recipes, or just catch up. During the pandemic, I began learning Hindi with my mom. I used to travel to India about once every year, and practicing Hindi allows me to have some connection to the country. It is actually very cool because when I go to India next (which hopefully will be soon), I might be able to speak to people! On Sundays, I do math with my uncle who is a physicist and has recently become obsessed with plants. He talks about them like they are his friends, and in a way they are. He loves them a lot, and takes us on Zoom tours to see all of them, so I have learned a lot about plants over the past few months. These Zoom meetings have helped us stay together in ways we could not otherwise because we live in very different parts of the world.
On the other side of my family, we usually spend time together over the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas), but now we have to quarantine before hanging out because my grandmother has chronic bronchitis. At the end of the last trimester, that meant I had to take myself out of hybrid school and become virtual. It was a little sad to have to choose between the two. This past Christmas my aunt and her new boyfriend visited us in the mountains from New Orleans, Louisiana. It was nice having them around because I hardly ever see them. These interactions felt more special because so much was virtual this year—in-person contact felt really good.
Most of my playdates have moved online since the pandemic. I can’t have play dates with my friends, so all my hanging out has moved to video games. Sometimes to play with certain friends I have to play a game I don’t like, but that’s okay because I would rather keep up with them than not hang out because they play a game I don’t like. Another problem is compatibility of devices. For example, some of my friends have an Xbox, but I have a computer, which means we can’t play some games together—this makes the relationship harder to maintain. But it has also prompted me to reach out to some acquaintances over the pandemic, making new friends and playing games like Minecraft together! Even though I make new friends, I also stay close to the old ones. I can be shy about making new friends at school, and I wonder if the virtual playdate situation helped me feel more comfortable reaching out to other people. I have made connections during this time that I know will last through the pandemic.
Running has also helped me a ton during the pandemic. It has helped me disconnect from my social life and calms me down. Getting fresh air while running is also a really good balance to playing a lot of video games indoors. I do long-distance running, which is very meditative and helps me think. When I get mad at my parents, or otherwise just need a break, I can go run. It has been one of my favorite things to do for several years now, and last fall I was on two teams: my school’s team and a local team called the Striders. The Striders were very competitive for me, which I liked. I had good goals to work toward, so I have improved a lot in my running. I went from a seven-minute mile at the start of the year all the way to a 5:30 time! It has been a daily activity of mine that I dare not miss. It’s an important part of my day and life. It sometimes gives me a weird feeling that almost feels like I am not physically present. It is this good feeling, very meditative and calm, that makes running more fun for me.
Another connection I have made during this time is a special treat called bubble tea. It has become my favorite treat to have during the pandemic. One of my oldest friends lives near the shop, so sometimes I buy two and leave one by his porch for him. It is a treat we both enjoy, which makes it a good bonding experience for us that is neither face-to-face nor virtual. The bubble tea I leave on the porch is a kind of physical connection between us at a time when we can’t see each other in person.
Reflecting on this time, I have learned the limits and possibilities of virtually hanging out. Sometimes it can be hard, but it has also opened me up to new types of connections and friendships. I have learned ways to be close to my friends and family virtually, and to balance my social life with time for myself to recharge.