By Jacki Levine

United yet apart. Social yet distant. Anxious, yet at times, surprisingly peaceful. In the months since the global outbreak of COVID-19, we often speak in oxymorons to describe what we are living through, so unlike anything we have known before.

Alone, together.

This has been a collective experience, where what unites us has never been more abundantly clear, yet it is as individual and unique and solitary as our own particular circumstances. It’s a time that has put our disparities in income, resources, and support in sharp relief.

The complete history of this pandemic is yet to be written. Still, each of us has a story to tell about how we are navigating this terrain. We asked our fellow Floridians to share their stories, to chronicle in words and photos, details of their daily lives.

In an instant our lives were transformed, as many of us suddenly left our offices, our schools, our plans for the near future. Others—the “essential workers”—were left in place to care for the sick, tend the elderly, stock grocery shelves, to keep the wheels spinning in a world that felt more fraught and fragile than during any time within memory.

The complete history of this pandemic is yet to be written. Still, each of us has a story to tell about how we are navigating this terrain – from missed holidays, to working from home, to educating our children or our students online, to connecting across the miles with those we love and miss. And we also have much to share about our inner lives, and what has brought us peace, comfort, joy, and surprise amidst the uncertainty and isolation.

To document this time, we asked our fellow Floridians to share their stories with Florida Humanities, to chronicle in words and photos, details of their daily lives and submit them for our project, Alone, Together: A Self-Portrait of Florida in a Time of Crisis.

Many of you answered, and reflected on how the world has looked to you, from your unique and priceless vantage points.

Many of your stories appear in the following pages, others online, all will be archived for the future. If you have a story and photo you’d like to share, click here.

  • Working During the Crisis of 2020

    Working During the Crisis of 2020

    By Ellin Iselin

    Half a year ago already, I was adjusting to my home office provided by Florida State College at Jacksonville. Literally, overnight, almost all employees were adapting to a new routine in the 21st-century virtual world of WebEx, Zoom, and Skype. Alone, Together. As an employee of FSCJ Artist Series, we have learned that the show must go on-line. I photo documented a few days of my workday each month. As I write this, Mayor Lenny Curry has extended the face-covering mandate. Halloween masks will look a lot different this season.

  • A virtual kiss for great-grandpa

    A virtual kiss for great-grandpa

    By Dianna Graveman

    Palm Harbor, Pinellas County

    My family’s isolation began in mid-February when my 91-year-old father fell and broke his hip. News of the coronavirus was just beginning to spread. Very few hospital personnel (and none of the doctors) wore masks. I didn’t follow news of the virus closely; my mind was on getting my dad through surgery, recuperation, and physical therapy. Little did I know then how much the pandemic would complicate his recovery. But every night his tiny great-granddaughter blows him virtual kisses on FaceTime, and in June he’ll meet his newborn great-grandson. The vigilance and isolation will have been worth it.

  • Through the glass,  our first grandchild

    Through the glass, our first grandchild

    By Julie Smith

    Jensen Beach, Martin County

    It was Easter day and we sat on the back patio of our son and daughter-in-law’s Fort Pierce home, peering in at the baby through the sliding glass doors. We felt fortunate to have such a wonderful vantage point, because it was as close as we could physically be to Colton, our first grandchild, without touching him. We experienced the gamut of emotions as we looked at him, ranging from joy and gratefulness to uncertainty and resignation. This photo was taken by our son during our second visit shortly after baby Colton was born. Colton is now 2 months old. We held him for the first time a few days ago. We wear masks while we are holding him, but we are grateful.

  • Balderdash—the game played ‘round the world

    Balderdash—the game played ‘round the world

    By Reggie Grant

    Tallahassee, Leon County

    Family games are both fun and necessary in a pandemic. So my teacher brain created a quarantine version of Balderdash, my favorite game, using Adobe Photoshop, Google Drive and Zoom. We have played three times so far. The latest game traversed thousands of miles and included a cousin in Toronto, a brother in Spain, another brother in London, and family and friends in Tallahassee. These experiences have been necessary to help keep my spirits up and minimize the depression over summer 2020 travel plans lost forever.

  • The world inside Nora’s tent

    The world inside Nora’s tent

    By Stephanie Moody

    Indialantic, Brevard County

    There’s a tent made of old bed sheets in my living room. It’s been standing for six weeks. When there’s nothing to do, which is often, Nora crawls in. I follow. The world outside is uncertain, but here, Nora studies picture books, whacks her toy xylophone, and stacks blocks. She learns and grows. How long will the tent remain? Until the orange netting around the neighborhood playground comes down and I don’t have to wrench her away when she tries to hold a friend’s hand. For now, Nora and I will be inside waiting for her dad to come home from work and day-dreaming about tomorrow.

  • Time to be a kid, with my kid

    Time to be a kid, with my kid

    By Kelly Benjamin

    Tampa, Hillsborough County

    In the midst of a scary and ridiculously mismanaged pandemic, being quarantined with an amazing 5 year old has reminded me to keep it in the moment every second of every day. Slowing down, playing, exploring, and imagining a different world are things adults should try to do more often. I don’t want things to go back to business as usual when this is over. I want them closer to the better world we can imagine and make real.

  • Missing my parents in lockdown

    Missing my parents in lockdown

    By John Freeman

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    After my parents moved from California to The Village retirement community in Gainesville in 2018, I saw them often for dinners and outings. But residents have been locked down since mid-March 2020, and visitors are now prohibited. The closest we’ve been to each other was on May 1, when this photo was taken at a back gate closed to traffic. Since then, barricades block the access road. We now talk often by phone, and I send them photos via U.S. mail. But it’s not the same as helping with financial papers or sharing walks and laughter together. I am grateful that they remain healthy in their late 80s, and that The Village safeguards them well.

  • There’s no place like… the garage

    There’s no place like… the garage

    By James Geis

    Ormond Beach, Volusia County

    My wife and I moved to Ormond Beach recently to be closer to family as we “mature.” We enjoyed going out to dinner with our son and his family every Sunday night, until the coronavirus ended that. Our son moved their cars and set up a large table. Our daughter-in-law and the grandkids decorated the garage, and with take-out food and plenty of separation, we are again enjoying our Sunday night family dinners. How great it is to have a loving family.

  • Best of times with my mom

    Best of times with my mom

    By Jennie Hess

    Orlando, Orange County

    My nonagenarian mom, Charlotte, flew south for a visit to my sister’s Sarasota home just before the pandemic unleashed its viral force. By late March, we knew it was too risky to let her fly home. Instead, we orchestrated a sister-to-sister “Mom handoff” halfway between our Florida homes. For six weeks, Mom, my husband and I embraced our cocoon of togetherness. We laughed over obscure crossword clues, clinked wine glasses on the patio, took socially-distanced walks and balanced ominous news updates with TV comedy binges. We hugged. A lot. In the worst of times, we had the best of times.

  • A different kind of graduation procession

    A different kind of graduation procession

    By Libby Malloy

    Brooksville, Hernando County

    For Hernando High School’s Class of 2020, pomp-and-circumstance took the form of the Senior Roll Out: a procession in glitter-splashed cars, with socially distanced families and friends hooting and hollering from the sidewalks as their grads drove by. The kids were creative with their decor and the mood was festive. But for parents on the sidelines, there was a touch of melancholy, an acknowledgement of what the pandemic has taken from the students – from all of us – these past few months. Still, balloons flew high and HHS colors of purple and gold filled Brooksville’s Bell Street. And moms, dads, and grandparents cheered for their grads, savoring a moment of celebration in this most unusual season.

  • FSU libraries toast its student employees, virtually

    FSU libraries toast its student employees, virtually

    By Meagan Bonnell

    Tallahassee, Leon County

    Each spring, FSU Libraries hosts our annual student recognition ceremony. FSU Libraries employs more than 100 student employees through internships, graduate assistantships, work study, and part-time employment. The student recognition ceremony is a celebration of thanks for all of their hard work throughout the academic year. We held a virtual celebration this year, featuring an address from the dean of libraries, speeches, and shout-outs to all of our students. Even though we couldn’t toast them in-person, we wanted to make sure our students knew how much we appreciate them.

  • First-Year teacher meets COVID-19

    First-Year teacher meets COVID-19

    By Hannah Scott

    West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County

    On March 13, an announcement came over the intercom of my second- grade classroom, saying we would be off for two weeks due to COVID-19. And that is how my first year of teaching ended – in a classroom at least. My workplace went from a classroom to a computer screen overnight. Adaptation did not come easy for me or my students. The students I teach come from a low-income community and many of their parents speak different languages than I do. Many students did not have access to the technology needed for distance learning, and had to borrow a district laptop. But this did not guarantee WiFi/internet access. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it is that flexibility and creativity are essential skills when teaching in today’s world.

  • Sharing happiness with migrant children through Art@Home

    Sharing happiness with migrant children through [email protected]

    By Lilly Carrasquillo

    Ocoee, Orange County

    I am an early childhood educator for the children of migrant Florida farm workers. As an incentive after parents receive a weekly newsletter with educational activities, I’ve been doing curbside distribution, bringing the families bags filled with art supplies. With these materials, parents can engage with their children by being creative and making art. When the art project is done, they share pictures through texts. Parents and children are enjoying the idea of doing [email protected] It has been very difficult for the children to understand why we are not providing services like the teachers did before. During this quarantine, I’ve learned a new way to bring happiness to a child.

  • From a distance: Is it good enough?

    From a distance: Is it good enough?

    By Kimberly Durgin

    Orlando, Orange County

    I had to adapt, and so did my students. We had some practice in class, but when I can’t see them, I panic. Is it good enough? Is it helping them get ready for the test? Is it helping them escape, even for 15 minutes, from the situation we’re sharing but trying to overcome? Through live conferencing, those students eager to help gave me feedback on ideas I showed them and projects I hoped they’d like. Together, we made it work. Maybe not gracefully or perfectly, but proudly and collaboratively.

  • A special anniversary

    A special anniversary

    By Roy Ray

    Winter Springs, Seminole County

    My wife and I were married 57 years ago, on April 13, in Oaklyn, New Jersey. She lives in Arden Courts now, a memory care community in Winter Springs. Our anniversary came about a month after the state issued an emergency order forbidding visitors in assisted living facilities. But the staff at Arden Courts made this a very special anniversary for both of us, despite the restrictions.

  • A diminished Passover Seder

    A diminished Passover Seder

    By Dr. Philip J. Shapiro

    Ormond Beach, Volusia County

    As a Jewish family, we have always had large family Seders, sometimes more than 40 relatives and friends in attendance. My wife prepares our home and I prepare to lead the Seder service. With the pandemic upon us, my wife and I sat alone at our kitchen table, just the two of us, and we went through the Haggadah (Passover Seder prayer book) feeling acutely aware that what we were doing ritually and religiously was so void of family and the true communal feeling for our faith. A Seder concludes with the words “next year in Jerusalem.” We concluded with “next year with our family.”

  • Happy birthday by Zoom

    Happy birthday by Zoom

    By Janet Scherberger

    Tampa, Hillsborough County

    One of my girlfriends marked her birthday in the midst of stay-at-home orders. Like so many people during this time, we celebrated the occasion with a Zoom gathering. (I had never even heard of Zoom until it became the chosen get-together platform among my family and friends during the pandemic.) One partygoer used a Happy Birthday background on her screen. I lit a candle in a cupcake. We sang Happy Birthday and my friend blew out the candle from the safety of her home – with an assist from me! Everyone shared in the good vibes. The cupcake was all mine.

  • For Easter, an even bigger family gathering, online

    For Easter, an even bigger family gathering, online

    By Bob and Ellen Hargrave

    Fort Myers, Lee County

    Easter. A time to celebrate the risen Christ. A time for family. Together. Easter 2020. The year of COVID-19. Sunday, we celebrated Christ’s birth with our church family, online. In our homes, we sang hymns of praise and heard God’s Word. On Saturday afternoon, via Zoom, our family gathered from Portland to British Columbia. Albuquerque to Nashville. Kansas City to Jacksonville. Gainesville to Fort Myers to Rockledge. One of our family musicians played the familiar hymns. We shared hearts, looked at beloved faces, and enjoyed the children’s antics. On screen: Four siblings who grew up together on a farm near LaCrosse, along with their spouses, and most of their descendants. I think the count was 31. (Seven with “Robert” in their name.) Even without COVID, we couldn’t have all been together. But here, on Zoom, so many of us were. Maybe a new tradition?

  • Happy birthday, COVID-19  style

    Happy birthday, COVID-19 style

    By Lisa Warren

    Orlando, Orange County

    There would be no big party for Chris Brockman’s 60th birthday on April 23rd in Orlando. But his good friend baked his favorite chocolate cake, and he was determined to blow out the candles, CoVid-19 style!

  • Rediscovered path leads to a haven for birds

    Rediscovered path leads to a haven for birds

    By Kathleen Mayo

    Fort Myers, Lee County

    After weeks of walking variations of the neighborhood routine, I rediscovered the joy of a nearby urban trail. John Yarbrough Linear Park runs between railroad tracks and a drainage canal. Part of that walk includes a filter marsh, an area for cleaning the water that flows to the Gulf. Dozens of wading birds have discovered the marsh – using it to find a meal, preen themselves, and raise their young. I’ve become a regular visitor to these herons, egrets, anhingas, and red-wing blackbirds. It’s my own slice of random beauty.

  • The world never needed us at all

    The world never needed us at all

    By Amelia Roloff

    Fort Lauderdale, Broward County

    The world is empty. Streets that once vibrated with hurried footsteps stand still. Restaurants once filled with laughter are silent. The night feels lonely without its anticipation and the day feels as if it has lost its purpose. The simplest pleasures in life have been stripped away, forcing mankind to realize how much they were taking for granted. However, the earth continues to turn. The sun continues to rise, and the grass continues to grow. The most important lesson taught from the world coming to a crashing halt is almost just as shocking: The world never needed us at all.

  • When the world closed down,  I opened my shades

    When the world closed down, I opened my shades

    By Elaine Cohen

    Pembroke Pines, Broward County

    Before the pandemic, I would return to my condo and angle my window shades to block out the world. Tired from work or exercise or socializing, I reveled in the quiet alone of home. Now I open the shades. As the sun rises, I watch Yoga Girl stroll to our small lake and do her poses, ignoring the wetness of morning dew. I see a neighbor surreptitiously feed squirrels in violation of condo rules. He slips back on to his porch to watch them run. My eyes follow butterflies in flight. When this ends my shades will stay open.

  • Visiting beauty in focus

    Visiting beauty in focus

    By Brenda Jowers

    Sneads, Jackson County

    During this time of isolation I decided, instead of focusing on the pandemic, I would literally “focus” on the beauty in my yard. I live near Lake Seminole with a state park across the road from my home. The amount of wildlife, birds and butterflies we see on a daily basis is astounding. Being a native Floridian, I have always been interested in our flora and fauna and photographing it gives me much joy and peace. This little “hummer” visits the feeder frequently. All I had to do was sit on my porch and wait.

  • For wildlife, a blessed respite

    For wildlife, a blessed respite

    By Penelope Young

    Ormond Beach, Volusia County

    Every morning, my husband and I walk our two dogs. One pre-dawn March morning, we stopped. “Listen.” The hum of US-1 and I-95, the constant noise carried across the Tomoka River, was gone. I took in a deep breath. Soon, wildlife emerged. Deer came to our yard. One, neighbors excitedly told us, was startled by seeing people after it stepped from the woods, and ran toward a man, jumping over him as the man ducked. I continued driving into work. There was no traffic. Roadkill was gone. I imagined the animals, too, had breathed in a sigh of relief.

  • I walk, I photograph—and then we talk

    I walk, I photograph—and then we talk

    By Chelsea Schneiter

    Largo, Pinellas County

    I take almost daily walks around my mobile home park and take photos to share with my friends online from all over the world. We talk about them, about our day. There is hope and a break from all the stress at that moment in time.

  • A community convened by owls

    A community convened by owls

    By Diane Farris

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    In a daily, socially distanced, gathering of family and neighbors, we gazed at two nested baby owls, 30 feet above, in a great oak. Then, on April 21, one was missing. Incredibly, a neighborhood bird whisperer discovered the fallen sibling and called Wildlife Care. Their intrepid climber restored the fallen sibling to the nest and family. Within a short week, both owlets had fledged, rapidly expanding their territory – even as we retreated back towards ours. We carry with us images of little ones growing strong in tenuous times, their times – and one hopeful celebration of community convened by nature.

  • A moment to be thankful

    A moment to be thankful

    By Dianne Farb

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    When I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all, I sit in my garden and remember how lucky my husband and I are, despite the science fiction movie we are all living in right now. I have my job, we have our health, we have a roof over our heads, and we have food on the table. So much more than many. So much to be thankful for.

  • Welcome to my ‘corona-cation’

    Welcome to my ‘corona-cation’

    By Jayne Alfieri

    Seffner, Hillsborough County

    I’m an illustrator and graphic designer from Tampa, a graduate of the Ringling School of Art and Design. This is my artistic rendition of what the weeks have been like since the stay-at-home order was put in place in Hillsborough County. The “Coronacation” story board idea came to me after spending weeks and weeks at home with my husband and two teenagers during the coronavirus lockdown. My refuge was my pool where I imagined vacationing in Bali or someplace much more exotic than my oak-tree lined backyard.

  • Her business is fashion—and compassion

    Her business is fashion—and compassion

    By Ilene Silverman

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    I own Ilene’s Gator Store. My business website provides an opportunity to talk to clients via phone, text, or email. Current lack of human contact, sense of isolation, and uncertainty is evident as they share deep intimate life stories. I am privileged to listen and offer empathy and compassion. Generous friends are making Gator print masks for my store; giving them away generates a warm smile and mutual happiness. May our new normal increase our desire to pay it forward and create a world with greater kindness to all.

  • Sharing the world’s (virtual) stage

    Sharing the world’s (virtual) stage

    By Roslyn Levy

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    As a Realtor, I have sent out a weekly newsletter for years to introduce new families to the cultural life of our community. My list grew to several hundred names, both new friends and longtime residents. This came to a sudden halt in March, as SARS-CoV-2 spread and live events were canceled. I turned to reviewing online performances and educational opportunities worldwide, sharing them in my newsletter. They include opera, ballet, choirs in isolation and even instructions on hand washing set to Beatles songs. My newsletter is now forwarded to an even larger audience – as far away as Bucharest and Mumbai.

  • Waddling for wellness and Zooming with zeal

    Waddling for wellness and Zooming with zeal

    By Ronnie Lovler

    Gainesville, Alachua County

    My coronavirus coping contrivances include two walks. My waddles for wellness are my daily bookends – two miles then coffee in the morning, two miles then wine at night. In between, I have Zoom, my new best friend. On Zoom, I teach classes, attend meetings and also have fun. My virtual life overrides geographic limitations. I can log in to dance with folks in Michigan, see live theater from San Diego and play mah jongg with “the girls” from New Jersey, all in a weekend. I stay socially connected even when I remain physically distanced. I’ve learned how to be alone, together.

  • ‘Healing the world’

    ‘Healing the world’

    By Dyrell Johnson

    Daytona Beach, Volusia County

    Over the past several weeks, our organization, Community Healing Project, Inc., like so many others, has been hit tremendously hard by the effects of COVID-19. While we did our part in being an information resource and network, we took it a step forward and used this quarantine as an opportunity and helped clean up the local beaches and rivers since they’ve been vacant. Every person and organization has played a huge role and we are so excited to see how our world adapts to this new change.

  • My new, old and future friends

    My new, old and future friends

    By Kirk Ke Wang

    Tampa, Hillsborough County

    Being a college art professor, I love oneon-one meetings with my students and conversations about art and life with friends. The COVID-19 pandemic stripped away those privileges. A crisis is a new opportunity. With more time home, I found many new, old, and future friends! I paid respect to Mother Earth by planting more trees and flowers. I will take care of my new friends. I resumed the meditation of practicing Chinese calligraphy. I am glad to see my old friend. I produced videos about my art for people online. I look forward to meeting my future friends.

Jacki Levine, FORUM Magazine Editor.

Jackie Levine is Editor of FORUM Magazine.

FORUM Magazine Fall 2020, Alone, Together.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of FORUM Magazine. Visit our collection at the USFSP Digital Archive by clicking here.