THE UPSIDE OF ISOLATION

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by Michael Bold

 

When I spoke with Aimee Mullins in April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom had just imposed a stay-at-home order on the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was sheltering in place with her husband, English actor Rupert Friend, in a small cabin on a friend’s avocado farm north of Los Angeles. The coronavirus pandemic worked in my favor, as it turns out. Instead of trying to catch up with her at home in New York, or on set in Los Angeles or during a foreign trip for a speaking engagement, she was very much at rest. We talked for an hour and 45 minutes.

Mullins, who is featured in the upcoming Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine, was born without fibulae, one of the bones in the lower leg. Her legs were amputated at age 1. She went on to compete in track and field at the NCAA Division 1 level, become a Paralympian, a model, an actress, an activist and a speaker who is in global demand.

In mid-April, much of our conversation was about coronavirus.

The farm where she’s stranded has turned out to be a sort of sanctuary. “You’re naturally just isolated,” she said. “We’ve been here now five weeks. We came out for work meetings in LA, and then, you know, things just started to get so strange so quickly, and things were changing every couple of hours. It felt like a new thing each day. We came north to visit our friends for what we thought would be a long weekend, and the shelter-in-place order happened.”

“But like I said, my husband and I—we’re so thankful every day, just so grateful for fresh air and being able to be outside and yet still be completely isolated, obeying the rules of physical distancing for our once-weekly grocery run in the town. We gave our home in New York to friends who were similarly displaced for lockdown.”

While Mullins grew up in suburban Allentown, Pennsylvania, she spent some summers in Ireland, visiting her father’s side of the family. She and Friend have always been comfortable in the country. “My husband grew up in the countryside. I grew up in the suburbs in the States, but then the experiences in Ireland were all very rural. So the practice of growing food and foraging for what’s already there is familiar—we found sweet fennel and Nasturtium growing out here. We made marmalade from the oranges. It’s chopping wood and gathering fallen avocados and making bread.”

The pandemic has shut down Hollywood, probably for the rest of the year. “You try to keep the fear at bay, certainly as actors. We all lost all of our jobs, at least until the end of the year. So besides the current health scares, the financial realities for most actors are scary. You know, it’s an unsettling thought. But the truth of this business is true for many artists, it’s part of your formative experience: You don’t get a regular paycheck. You’re really grateful for the jobs you get, and you sock whatever you can away for the rainy day, because inevitably it always comes. There’s always a stretch of a time where, for whatever reason, you don’t work. I feel like we were able to use the tools we have to try and switch the perspective from one of, ‘Oh, my God, we’re not getting any income for the next 12 months,’ to, ‘OK, so what can this be?’ It’s going to be a time to write and get creative.”

“Also, I learned how to meditate 10 years ago, but admittedly I fell in and out of it because of time constraints. Who has this kind of time in the day to do this? Now I do. And the positive effect on my mood is undeniable, so I’ve made the promise to myself that it won’t just be a practice during quarantine, when time stretches out before us in a way it hasn’t since we were children in the world. Even during these strange days, not knowing when or how this suspension will lift, the silver lining aspect of it for me has been very noticeable in having time, just time … to notice the change in the sky across a morning, different kinds of clouds, clocking nature’s subtle changes, it’s the things you did when you were 7 years old.”

And for some, quarantining has changed their lives for the better. She told a story about a couple she knew who had separated and were moving toward divorce who chose to move back in together so they’d both be there for their 6-year-old child. “She said to me the other day that this is such an extraordinary thing, because they’re in these very close quarters and they can’t go out. They’re there with their child. They’ve made this active choice for kindness, just to be kind, to let go of the little annoyances and the petty grievances and even the things that really, really annoy you. It’s like, just let it go. It’s amazing. They have a totally renewed affinity and love for one another.”

Dealing with loved ones when you’re trapped in quarantine together requires enhanced coping skills, she said. “My husband calls it stop, drop and roll. I go, ‘No, honey, that’s for fires. It’s fires.’ But he’s right, it is stop, drop and roll: Just take a breath, relinquish the need to make your point, and kind of—yeah, roll with the de-escalation. Let it breathe out so that it doesn’t become bigger than it needs to be.”

 


 

Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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