We often talk about the need to take care of our physical hearts. Our metaphorical hearts are also precious and worthy of care. Our metaphorical hearts might be even more delicate than our physical ones. People have been warning about the need to consider the mental health implications of the global pandemic. The isolation generated by COVID-19 can kill our tender hearts.
The reality of this perspective recently came home to roost in a personal way. Someone important in my life tried to take his own life. He mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing isolation as a key factor in his decision. I have sufficient experience with depression to know that, often, what seems to be the problem is not really the problem… or, at least, is only part of the problem. There are usually many less visible, less obvious, and less one-dimensional factors chewing on the psyche far below the surface. However, if we can identify and address the cause that jumps to the forefront, screaming for attention, we often end up identifying and addressing the more insidious factors as well.
I am glad that I live in Florida. Many people would argue that we Floridians have been irresponsible and cavalier when it comes to addressing the physical pandemic. We were out and about long before most other states. We do not mandate masking in all situations. Our schools and businesses have been open almost continuously after the initial months of the pandemic.
In other states, the concern over physical health caused people to be socially distant and physically isolated for a year or more. In some locations, the protocols still result in little to no organic human interaction. Certainly, if a person is resilient enough to create opportunities for social connection through alternative technical methods, there are still ways of staying in touch and in relationship with those who feed the soul. Some exceptionally creative people blossomed in a world that needed their energy and expertise. However, no matter what your tolerance is for social distancing and how you coped with it, I do not think that anything can quite replace human touch.
Also, if a person is suffering already and his psyche is already bruised, it can be more difficult to be creative. When the soul becomes wounded, it leaks positive energy. There is no energy left to learn the new skillsets necessary to create and maintain virtual human relationships. Such alternative methods of interacting require not only technical skills but require different communication skills as well. Expecting someone who is already barely treading emotional water to develop a whole new way of relating to the world is asking a great deal. Some sink under the surface and never reappear.
As our society addressed the pandemic, there seemed to be two schools of thought. In one perspective, the feeling was that we should hunker down and wait it out. We would behave abnormally until normalcy returned. Other people soon decided that we were not going to be able to wait out abnormally. That “stay isolated for two weeks to flatten the curve and defeat the pandemic” clearly did not work. We had no idea how long we were going to have to isolate to “flatten the curve and defeat the pandemic.” We realized our economic stability would not survive such uncertainty. It took a little longer, but we eventually realized our emotional stability would not survive such uncertainty, either.
I heard an interesting statistic in January of 2021. During 2020, 70% of churches had no fellowship, outreach, or ministry except conducting online services. Some were not even able to conduct online services. Surely, if any organization exists to care for the soul and heart, it is the Church. I am happy to be part of a parish that did continue to provide some degree of fellowship, outreach, and ministry even at the height of the pandemic. It was only through the Holy Spirit that our parish was able to transition from virtually no online presence at all to live streaming services and Sunday School. We never missed a Sunday. Many of our ministries and fellowship opportunities continued on Zoom and in socially distanced ways. We even started new ministries and our congregation grew. Our church, established in the 1885, was not exactly cutting edge. Still, we are very blessed to have been able to rocket launch ourselves into the wide world of technology almost immediately. It was a process, but no one died and there was no blood on the floor.
I am not faulting other churches or organizations that did not pivot as quickly. I am certain that part of our perspective was influenced by the fact that the overall societal culture in our state leaned towards figuring out how to live in the pandemic rather than waiting it out. I also believe very strongly that God led our leadership to walk through the pandemic putting one foot in front of the other. As we did things in different ways, we were not always successful. There were missing pieces- often huge, jagged pieces that stuck and hurt. Still, the act of trying went a long way towards our own faith, resiliency, and mission. We did not always tag all the bases, but we tried to at least come up to bat. We succeeded and are maybe even stronger for it. I thank God and everyone who listened to His voice as we continue to navigate our way through the changing parameters of the pandemic.
Many people live in a world that has toppled much more easily during the pandemic. Their hearts are still hurting, and they do not know how to heal. It has been going on so long that their emotional reserves have been conditioned out of existence. Let’s try to behave in a way that hopes and heals, no matter who we encounter in our lives. We do not know what goes on inside the hearts of our fellow travelers. We do not know how badly their hearts hurt. We do not know how vulnerable our neighbors are. For those of us who still have some emotional resilience left, I hope we can take the burden of initiative to bring our brothers and sisters back into connection. We do not know the hope we carry.
Clearly, there is a physical pandemic that cruelly continues to take physical lives. There is also an emotional pandemic that continues to do much damage also, sometimes even taking physical lives. It is a tricky question as to how to balance the physical and emotional pandemic. I do not know the “best” cocktail of isolation and connection to keep the demons of both pandemics in check. I wish I did. No matter what we do, we will not get it right all of the time, but let us try, each in our own way, to mitigate the damage caused by the emotional pandemic. We will not always tag all the bases, but let’s at least come up to bat.
How can you help mitigate the metaphorical heart damage caused by the pandemic? What can you do today to connect with someone who feels alone? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Valentine’s Day!