social distancing

There’s an old saying that you can tell an extroverted Norwegian because he looks at your shoes instead of his own.

It’s common now to see posts on social media that reference this new world of social distancing which proclaim, “I was made for this,” or “Now’s my time to shine.”  I may have written something along those lines myself.

My two grandfathers were of Norwegian descent.  One grandmother was German and the other Irish, just to spice things up a bit.  Of course, that simple lineage – which has allowed me to say that I am half this, a quarter that, and a quarter that – was no doubt a little more complex in the recesses of history.  Whatever mix I am, it’s not hard for me to be by myself.  It’s usually when I do my best work and I can go at it for days and weeks if need be.  But this current isolation is another thing entirely, I think because of the uncertainty and dread involved, and the knowledge that real damage is coming to lives and livelihoods.  This is not a video game with no consequences.

For some of us, a Wall Street Journal headline summarized our first reaction to the early calls that we should isolate ourselves:  “Coronavirus Has Boomers Asking: Who Are You Calling Elderly?”  But, as more evidence has come in, we’ve found out that younger adults are at risk too.  In many places, they are incurring the disease in greater numbers than other age groups, and the rapid declines and deaths of some otherwise healthy young people has alerted people to the true dangers we face.

Another myth that is rapidly being erased by the spread of the virus is that it thrives in cities and won’t do much harm in rural areas.  I was supposed to be in New York City this week, a place I love to visit despite my solitary tendencies.  Three weeks ago, when I canceled the workshop I was to be leading there, the virus didn’t have much of a foothold, but I figured that the environment was conducive to its spread.  We’ve seen that come true to an alarming degree.

More surprising developments are occurring in rural areas.  A map that ten days ago showed very few cases outside of big cities now has dots all over it.  Part of that change is because the rate of testing has increased, and given that tests are still hard to come by in many areas, that broadening trend will continue.

Some of those rural communities are seeing significant rates of per capita infection.  While you may cross paths with a large number of different people in a big city, the deep relationships and frequent interactions among family and friends in smaller towns can lead to intense clusters of the disease.  If those clusters continue to proliferate, the impending shortages of beds and equipment at big-city hospitals could plague some rural ones too.

Unfortunately, for those who would naturally seek solace at a time like this in religious practice, churches have proven to be a breeding ground for the virus, regardless of geography.  Churches in cities, suburbs, and rural areas are at the center of many outbreaks.  The communal celebrations that normally uplift the soul have turned potentially deadly, causing the necessary but sad decision to keep people apart when they want to be together.

The healing power of touch has been taken from us.  We can see people that we care about through windows, we can talk to them on the phone, or we can FaceTime/Zoom/Skype/whatever, but it’s not the same.  It is especially heartbreaking when you can’t be with your loved ones during their times of physical or mental trauma, or when you have to mourn their passing without experiencing the personal comfort of others.

The medical consequences of this outbreak are getting closer and closer to each of us.  If you don’t already, you will soon know someone whose family has suffered direct effects from it – or you may become infected yourself.

But even without that happening, we all are being affected in unexpected ways by the social distancing that is the bitter medicine we must swallow before better remedies are available.

Sue and I have been apart for about six weeks.  She is over a thousand miles away, providing care for our first grandchild.  This is her second “shift” (she was there during January too, before the other grandmother took over), which has turned out a bit differently than anticipated, since she was expected to be home by now.  We don’t really know where things go from here or when our distancing will be a thing of the past.

In one way or another, that’s true for everyone.  Even the stoics among us feel out of sorts.

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