Connections with others and how they happen are mysterious, aren’t they?
In BC — Before COVID-19 — (which feels like lightyears ago, when we could just board planes and travel with relative ease) I flew to London from Los Angeles. Needing to board from the third floor of the terminal because of the height of the plane astounded me. I travelled on one of the huge A380s. I sat in row 75 on the upper deck of a plane that held some 800 passengers. It was remarkable. The plane rose into the air with more ease than the tiny Cessnas, my dad had flown us in time and again. My seatmate was English. He had just flown to California for a three-day surprise visit. He had showed up unannounced at his girlfriend’s place and proposed to her. She had been staggered, he told me. She said “Yes!”
After those introductions, we shared minimally even while sitting next to each other for the next 10.5 hours. I tried plying him with a few questions beyond his proposal story, but he seemed to prefer one-word answers to my questions. So, I slept for five hours. Other than one another’s names, we shared nothing more.
In contrast, after the flight I found myself standing in line behind a couple from the states in the customs queue. We were in line for an hour and the man and I began sharing easily. In that short time we talked about a number of topics, laughed, joked, and ended up sharing phone numbers in the hopes of reconnecting again. It was a marvelous connection.
Strangers meet and for a variety of reasons, either connect or do not connect. There were factors of culture, personality, exhaustion, space, etc., which impacted connections in normal times.
In the AC world (After-COVID-19) such connections are different. First, there is the factor of masks. To not see another’s face changes connections, for me. There are also the various belief systems around mask-wearing. I was on a walk outdoors, in a nature park recently. With all the air, and no face-to-face conversations, and plenty of distance between me and others, masks are not required. However, many others mask always. Others, of kinder hearts than mine, wear a mask around others even outdoors in deference for the other person’s sense of safety or caution.
Because there are many different beliefs surrounding mask-wearing, there is also a sense of judgment, or “looks of disapproval” when I am not wearing one. This, of course, hinders connection. Even with a mask, people are afraid, what if I carry the dread illness and infect them? Again, the likelihood of this is so very low as to be impossible, yet still due to the propaganda of the media, it is believed by many. Indeed, the beliefs have made strangers around us like lepers in the first century. Others are viewed as likely “unclean” and so we are more apt to “keep our distance.”
Second, to masks, are the physical distancing rules: 6 feet or arm’s length, or two sheep (in Mexico), two meters in Europe or if touching elbows or fists in greeting closer, or in one 4th Grade Classroom, the reach of your outstretched 9-year-old arms. This distancing, this prevailing belief which says the two people across the distance might pass the virus again hinders connections.
Masks and distancing already are habits within society. You cannot enter stores without masks. Physical distancing is mandated by spots on the floor. In one school, recess play is hindered ostensibly to protect the children saying, yes they can play, but cannot use the same ball. Basically, all sports are denied them. No kickball, soccer, baseball, hopscotch, basketball. Every such wholesome thing is withdrawn. How strong of a virus do we believe we are dealing with? And the first thing after recess is for the students to all stand at the sink and wash their hands. Their teacher told me the process takes another 30 minutes.
Could we be asking more questions about what is happening?
One mom in Idaho was arrested for allowing her own children to play on the equipment in a park. Another mom was arrested for the same in another state. It is interesting playgrounds have been closed since the beginning but liquor stores open. Since when are liquor stores about “essential services?” What about schools? What about businesses going extinct because of the lockdown? What about the closure of churches to public worship? What about the rise in suicide, depression, domestic violence, and businesses filing for bankruptcy? Of course, such rises are blamed upon something other than the imposed restrictions.
Is all this really to save lives or is it all about control or something else? And, again, to what end?
In August, Berlin and other cities in Germany staged demonstrations in protest to all the restrictions. I found their response refreshing. Somehow, they are finding a way to say “enough.” The triple board certified Dr. Zach Bush, described as the Einstein of Medicine, observed that every other instance of the coronavirus has lasted two years and then has died off. With this cycle, what might happen is the advent of a mandated vaccine will correspond to the time when the virus would die off anyway. But the vaccine will be given the credit.
In the meantime, here we are in this strange COVID-19 world. Fear is in the air.
I was walking up a path from the river a few weeks back, and in front of me was a family two adults and their three small children on scooters and small bikes. The children had helmets and were making slow progress up the steep, paved pathway, so my stride would take me easily past them. I was outdoors and more than six feet from anyone, so had no mask with me. As I came up to pass one of their little guys behind his family, he looked back, saw me, screamed and careened off the path into the bushes. At that point, I was a good 15 feet behind him and planning to give a wide berth as I passed.
His mom looked back at him and said, “Oh honey, are you afraid of the buggies in the air? It is okay.”
“There’s plenty of air here. You are safe, buddy,” I called. This was true. What a world this little guy is growing up in afraid of “buggies in the air.” What are we believing? Who are we protecting?
This week, I met Micah, a man who works in my building for the first time. We had no masks on and in greeting, he automatically reached out, and we shook hands. This rich sensation filled me. It was my first handshake in months. It felt wonderful. The warmth of his palm, the human touch, the smile on his face, this warmth flooded my whole body. When I used to shake hands all the time, I had discounted the importance of them. Trained by this cultural season, he immediately blushed and said, “Oh man, guess we shouldn’t have done that.” I responded,
“You know, it’s fine. It is really good to meet you. Touch is so needed.”
Touch is so needed. A lack of connection is sourcing all kinds of those societal ills, some of which I listed earlier, from depression to suicide. We are not meant to live separated, masked, without human contact. I visited a dear friend in June. We had not seen one another since March 8th and I had stopped by unannounced. She met me at the door and said, “Will you come in?”
I answered, “Of course I will.”
Then I said, “May I give you a hug?”
“Would you?” she responded.
After we hugged she said, “That was my first hug in 10 weeks.”
She told me, “You know, you asked me to tell you when I was not doing well. Today I am not doing well, and I was going to call you and tell you this. I had just talked myself out of doing so when you called.” We are meant to connect and touch others.
Our youngest daughter, 28, had traveled across town for a meeting which she discovered once on the other side of Portland had been cancelled. So, she had just arrived at a New Seasons Market she does not normally go to, when a woman came out of the store in tears. My daughter said, “What has happened? Can I help you?”
“I have breast cancer,” she told our daughter. “I need help to get to my doctor for a treatment.” A number of things had happened to develop the need. “After I had asked one woman for money, she said, ‘Oh, you need food? I’ll get you something,’ and came out with one banana for me.”
Our daughter was appalled. She told us, “A banana would have food energy to last about 20 seconds!”
The woman continued, “So, I asked a man if he had any money he could give me, and he made as if he was going to give me a $20 bill and instead, spit in my face, laughed and walked away! Was this because I am black? Or is this how people treat humans in Portland?”
My daughter, brokenhearted over the story, enveloped this weeping woman in her arms and gave her a hug while they both cried.
Connections require we remember our humanity.
Our daughter told this woman, “I am so sorry this happened to you. Not all people in Portland will treat others that way.” Gabri had some food bars in her purse and gave these to the woman. And found she had $30 cash and said, “Here, you need this much more than I do.” In telling us the story later she said, “I think I was meant to be in that place at that point in time to give this woman a hug.” We agreed.
Yet, others will read this and be shocked. You might be thinking: “You shook hands?” “You hugged?” “They hugged?” But you see…
When was it ever safe to be human?
We take risks every time we leave our homes and take risks in our homes! There are viruses literally all around us on bushes and in the air. Like I quoted last week 50% of our genome is virus. There are dangers crossing the street, driving, riding a bike, flying on a plane, in addition to the diseases around us. Do we live afraid of all of these?
Tens of thousands of people get the flu yearly, and we continue on. On any given day last fall in the school where another of our daughters teaches fourth grade, 100 students were absent with the flu. Yet, school was not closed.
Last night I had the privilege of meeting a young man dating another of our daughters, and reached out asking, “Do you shake hands?” He smiled and responded, “Of course I do. I’m human.”
I loved this response. And for the record, I would have been fine had he preferred otherwise.
We are human. We need connection. Daily you encounter many, many people all of whom are being impacted by this world season. As you meet them, “touch” if not by hand, with your heart, your greeting, your love, the peace you bring. Touch elbows or fists or side hugs. Be present to another.
I met a friend for coffee who is very aware of this current season and follows all the rules more exactly than I will, and she said this, “I weigh the risks to the value. One of your hugs definitely is worth the risks.” So, masked, we hugged, and then sat outdoors and shared for an hour. It was a beautiful connection.
Connect friends with others. Every connection matters.