This last year was a very peculiar time. Lots of isolation. The thing is, it didn’t feel how isolation usually feels.

Perhaps, what I mean to say is that I didn’t realize I WAS isolated. Maybe that’s because separation during that first year of covid became too familiar. This pandemic has brought disconnection, like a famine, to an already disconnected world.

One day in October, on a whim, I decided to check out holiday cruise fares. My holidays were going to be uneventful, so I decided to get away. I usually travel on my own, which I enjoy, and I had not been on a real vacation since before the pandemic.

I found a five day Norwegian cruise to Belize and Cozumel during the week of Christmas.

Norwegian took all the precautions that made me feel safe enough to book a cruise in the first place: only vaccinated passengers, negative covid tests before boarding, and masks worn while inside. Luckily, my voyage ended just before the CDC recommended people avoid cruising.

I imagined it would be mostly families on board since it was Christmas and expected that my trip would consist of a lot of reading and quiet reflection, maybe even some writing.

I never cracked open a book. I never put pen to paper. I spent every waking moment, with the exception of some luxurious midday naps, with people.

From the first night on the ship to just before departure, my time was spent with warm, open-hearted people who had missed humanity just as much as I had and had taken a holiday cruise to be surrounded by life again.

And what I discovered is that we had all missed each other.

We had all missed the gift of going somewhere new and meeting people for the first time. Introductions, the friendly banter of folks telling their stories to each other — there was so much giddy chatter in the air.

Most of my time was spent outside in the sun, ocean view, tropical breeze, everyone free of masks.

There was so much joy and laughter. People wanted to know who they were sitting next to, where they were from. I watched two men from opposite sides of the country as they excitedly introduced their families to one another.

So much generous connection. We had all been starved.

I think most of all we had missed faces. It was the first time in two years that I had seen so many smiles.

New friends invited me to have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners with them.

Generosity of spirit was all around.

Some booked the cruise to escape grief and loss.

Some to avoid being home alone at Christmas.

I believe we all went home a bit stronger than before, hope replenished.

The greatest gifts that I could have received, comfort and joy, were provided through human connection — which was there in abundance with so many beautiful people.

My hope for 2022 is that we continue connecting and keep good connections alive.

Born in Rome, Olivia Gunn returned to her roots after a brief time of study at a university in Scotland. She is currently working on a book of essays and poetry as well as a memoir.

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