Closing the Distance

We were all hoping the Corona-virus would be conquered by now. We were praying for a large downswing in the curve. Instead it is still running rampant, and we are still called upon to socially distance ourselves. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on our mental and emotional health. (At least those of us who are obeying the mandates of medical experts and the CDC.)

Social distancing is suppose to mean keeping at least 6 feet between you and another person. Perhaps this was a poor choice of words. Perhaps we should have called it physical distancing. After all, we are social creatures. We need companionship. We need our sense of community and family. This innate need and desire has not gone away in the face of a pandemic, nor should it. What we have to do is modify our social behavior rather than nullify it.

I decided to have a family cookout. Our entire immediate family was present. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no kisses. Each person arrived wearing a mask. Each person proceeded to the bathroom to wash their hands. We headed to the patio where each person sat or stood with enough distance between them to satisfy the health considerations of the elderly among us. We laughed, we talked, we ate, we drank, and we reminisced days gone by. All of our utensils, cups, and plates were disposable. I’d like to think a good time was had by all. This is just one of the ways we closed the distance in our family. It did my heart good to see with my own eyes that my sons and their families were doing well. (All of them have been working outside their homes throughout the pandemic.)

Yesterday, I talked to a friend in southern California. She told me that she and four of her friends went to the neighborhood park, mask in place, and had a great two hour visit under the trees. She said each of them enjoyed this short visit so much because all of them live alone and longed for human contact. This friend is over seventy years old. She does not have internet access so her interactions have been limited to telephone. (We were on the phone 3 hours. It was easy to ear how much she needs social interaction.) She also shared with me that some places there have made drive-in movies in the parking lots of Walmart stores to provide an outlet for social activity. I was happy to hear that my friend was finding ways to close the social distance between her and her friends.

Staying home, cutting ourselves off from all human contact, especially for those who live alone, can weigh heavily on the soul. Depression and anxiety can grow in a way that destroys the joy of living. I’m writing this short blog to remind us that there are ways to come together safely.

We don’t have to be socially distanced in a way that leaves us in solitude each and every day. We can find ways to close the distance, while keeping some physical distance between us. Here are a few suggestions: Walk around your neighbor, speak to neighbors and others who are outside in their yards; better yet walk with a friend. Drive to the lake or to a community you’ve always wondered about, then call a friend and tell them about everything you saw and felt. Offer to Face-time and elderly person’s children and allow them to have a conversation on your phone by putting it in a plastic food bag. Share conference call numbers for prayer meetings and bible studies with the people you know. Set up a drive-in movie in your church or club parking lot. Invite a friend to the park for a foot race. Set up a conference call to exchange recipes or gardening tips with your friends/family. Go to the golf range with a companion; hit a bucket of balls.

You may still need to wear your mask, use your hand sanitizer, and maintain a proper physical distance from other people, but you can still be a social member of your community. Stay connected while you stay safe and close the distance between your family, friends, and neighbors.

PS: Connect your doctor or a mental health professional if you are feeling depressed and anxious beyond what you can handle. This is a necessary distance to close.

Walter is a good storyteller. His stories will make you laugh and cry — and sometimes pray. He knows the pain of failure and the joy of being rescued by caring friends. In these stories you will find inspiration, laughter, hope and encouragement. Walter hopes that you will find a story that moves you to give thanks for the people who held the rope for you when you were a “basket case,” and inspire you to hold the rope for a hurting friend. Amazon.com

Separated but Not Divided

Social distancing has separated many of us from our loved ones, especially friends and family we are used to seeing several times each week. Our new normal includes language like, “who’s sheltering in with you?” While the number of people we are sheltering with may be few, we don’t have to isolated from those we love.

One of the Gen Z members of my husbands family helped me to see this. (iGen, Gen Z, Centennials, I hate all these designations so why didn’t I just say teenager.) She took it upon herself to plan a virtual family reunion. She started by contacting as many family members as she could through her grandfather’s siblings and cousins on Facebook. Using these family members and a number of other social media platforms, she was able to get the word out that we would all meet together on Zoom (a webinar, video conferencing platform) on Palm Sunday at a certain time eastern standard time.

Although we were all separated by time and space, we were united together as a family of many generations. One of the oldest members of the family shared a song with us. Another member shared a prayer. Several members shared updates on their households, and we all took turns greeting members of the family that we had not seen in a long time (even before the Corona-virus pandemic). There was laughter and tears, scriptures and jokes, singing and banter. We were from all over the country: California, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, New York, Texas; there was also some family members on the video chat from England. Separated but not divided.

Last week my grandson let me know he was going to Face-time me on Wednesday at a certain time. I knew he had wanted to talk to his father, my son, but had been missing him because of his work schedule among other things. I was able to surprise my grandson by having his father on the line when he called. (That was a living in joy moment! See last week’s blog for more about living in joy.) My grandson was so surprised and happy, as was my son. Again, separated but not divided.

One of my dearest friends in North Carolina contacted me with an Easter greeting by text. I didn’t know she had my number. It has been four or five years since we visited one another. Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise to hear form her and her family, and to know they were all doing well in the midst of the pandemic.

My oldest son sent me some beauty lake side pictures by text this morning. I got a chance to see what he was seeing while he is traveling for his job. He knows how much I love being near the water so it made him think of me. (I love oceans, lakes, and rivers; I can’t wait to travel again!) I haven’t seen him for several weeks now which is very unusual, but we remain close through phone calls, texts, and pictures. The love we share on a spiritual plain will never let us be truly separated.

Try something new if you are not techno savvy. Call one of those young people in your family and have them walk you through it. They are probably bored anyway and will be glad to help. If you are old school like my mom who still has a land line, use call forwarding or call waiting to hook up with your people. (My granddaughter informs me that hook up means something different these days, but you can’t do that through the phone, so you know what I mean.)

Don’t allow sheltering in to cause division between you and the people you care about. Use whatever means necessary to maintain contact and connection. Use this time of social distancing to reconnect with someone who has been on your mind, especially if you know they are by themselves. Don’t let them be alone.

We may be separated, but we don’t have to be divided. Stay safe. Stay connected.

Our Need to Connect

Why is it you never miss things or people until they are gone or unavailable? When I think of all the times I complained about my students, my co-workers, or even my family, it seems ridiculous now. No doubt, I took their presence for granted. No doubt, I discounted the value of their connection to my life. Funny how we lie to ourselves. In honesty, after small breaks I was always ready to go back to work. After several days of vacation or time at home, I was always ready to return to my routine, my kids, and my people. That’s the thing! We all have our people.

All of our daily routines are connected to people whether they are co-workers, children, clients, siblings, competitors, bosses, or spouses. People connect us to our purpose. People enhance our identity and inform our desires. Okay, maybe that’s a little too poetic, after all that’s my niche. The fact is we have a innate need to connect and that need is suffering from “social distancing” and “sheltering in.” That’s why we need to find creative ways to connect even during these Conronavirus days.

We need to make connections beyond texting and emails; we need to connect with human voices and faces. Don’t get me wrong, I love Facetime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Duo, and all the other techno-means of contacting people. However, I’m talking about more than that. For example, neighbors can schedule times to meet in their front yards or over the back fence. Or you can stand 6 feet from grandma’s open window or six parking spaces from your best friend in the school parking lot. Perhaps you could have a four corners’ community meeting at the four-way stop in your neighborhood. Each family takes a corner so the children get to talk and see each other as well. Today, I met a dear friend in the parking lot of the grocery store, we both stayed in our cars and caught up on our families’ well-being.

Even though we are nervous about contact with others, most of us are still in contact with others in some form such as: doctor’s appointments, essential shopping, and contact with repair people. Asking and listening to the answer of the question, “how are you?” is important. While taking the time to talk to cashiers, or restaurant workers isn’t a deep heartfelt connection; it is still an important human connection. Sharing sincere appreciation for someone’s service is a much needed connection in times like these. All it takes is a little empathy and compassion.

Before COVID 19, we all had a network of friends, family, and even commercial partners in the marketplace (like my hairstylist, nail tech, and mechanic). These are essential connections. Some psychologists believe they are necessary for our mental health as well. Through these connections we become inspired and motivated to fulfill our purpose (dreams, goals, callings, niches). They reinforce our sense of self and increase our acceptance of others. We feel fulfilled emotionally and socially when we have these connections. We also feel safe and whole when we are connected to our people, our community of significant others. (Wow, that’s a little preachy.) Our need for connection is real is all I’m really trying to say.

Our need for connection with others is a real need, and we shouldn’t give up on it easily. We can use our creativity to communicate with others. If you have elders in your life, as I do, here’s one last way to connect. My mom is 89 and she loves letters and cards. She is from that generation where handwritten letters demonstrated the genuineness of the relationship. In fact, she has a little keepsake box of letters she has received over the years. So you can connect through handwritten letters, to protect the most vulnerable in our lives. Don’t forget to add some pictures.

One time there was someone very close to me in jail. They felt isolated and I felt helplessly locked out of their lives. I was shocked to see how much it meant to both us to talk through the glass and press our palms together on it. Just those few minutes each week gave us both hope and kept our relationship in tact. Our need for connection was somehow fulfilled just by laying eyes on one another and hearing each other’s voice. COVID 19 has us behind the glass, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to connect.

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World
The good news is that social connection is innate and a cure for loneliness. InĀ Together, the former Surgeon General will address the importance of community and connection and offer viable and actionable solutions to this overlooked epidemic. amazon.com
The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods
We need our neighbors and community to stay healthy, produce jobs, raise our children, and care for those on the margin. Institutions and professional services have reached their limit of their ability to help us. amazon.com