Social Distancing

I’ve been socially distant most of my life.  It wasn’t due to any fear of contagion, but simply because of my anxiety, shyness, and general awkwardness. You might say that, now that social distancing is all the rage, I am on trend for the first time in my life.  I’m very good at it. 

On the other hand, I’m changing in my old age.  I’m beginning to see what I’ve been missing.  It took me almost 60 years to fight my way out of my fear and find my way into warmth, support, and connection with loving social families- both in my community and in my church.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! I feel like I’ve discovered chocolate for the first time ever. 

I keep saying that I don’t feel any particular fear about the COVID-19 virus.  That is absolutely true from a medical perspective.  I still don’t feel scared that I’m going to catch it or that there will be massive deaths of otherwise healthy people.  I am very scared about a couple of things, though.

I am scared about the economic effect that will result from the standstill of face-to-face commerce.  I am especially scared for the people who will lose jobs or won’t be able to provide basic necessities because there is little or no business happening while the world is in lockdown.  I am glad to see that many organizations and individuals are mobilizing to help and I will be supporting them.  There will still likely be financial tragedies.  I will do whatever I can to help.  I believe, as a Christian, God calls me to lead from love and generosity, not from fear and panic. 

For me personally, my biggest fear is that I will lose the social connection that I didn’t have so many years.  It wasn’t like I became extroverted or without anxiety.  It wasn’t like I made the shift to social connection suddenly or without discomfort.  It took me a lot of maturity, courage, awkwardness, grace, sense of service, and encouragement to get there.  The whole thing is relatively new to me.  I am not sure it is firmly rooted or integrated enough into my psyche to survive being uprooted by a period of relative isolation.  One of my biggest “leftover” anxieties is phone contact.  It is still very hard for me to connect to people over the phone.  I think it is because I am fairly intuitive and I pick up lots of cues about what a person if feeling and thinking by his or her body language.  When I am without those cues because I am on the phone, I feel more anxious.  Now that I must use the phone to reinforce a sense of community, companionship, and affection, I guess God is saying it is time to tackle that particular dragon of mine. 

It isn’t just the fear of losing connection while the world lockdown is going on.  I am also scared that we won’t be able to go back to “normal” once we are able to walk amongst each other again.  Will people have become so lethargic and isolated that they will just hang back and forget how much richer we are with touch and face-to-face contact?  Will the whole world be social awkward?  Will I lose all the progress I’ve made in developing genuine, intimate, personal and communal relationships?  The possibility makes me very, very sad.  Once you’ve tasted chocolate, the idea of never having it again is pretty terrible.  I’m going to do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen, even if it is not comfortable for me.  I was brave enough to break my own patterns once.  I am confident that I can do it again, with God’s help.  Maybe I’ll be even better because the whole world seems to be in a more deliberate, mindful communication mode.  It seems like a lot of people are expanding their connection skills to try to retain community, companionship, and affection.  I guess I am not the only one who is fighting social distance.

You know how the Star Trek folks have that motto, “Live Long and Prosper?”  I have a new motto.  My motto is “This is temporary.  Stay close in heart and soul while we ride it out.” 

Are you seeing any “silver linings” to the challenge of COVID-19 isolation?  Do you need a virtual hug or some electronic reassurance that you do have genuine connections with people?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a healthy day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Going Viral

The other day, I went to the supermarket to do my weekly grocery shopping.  I learned that I could easily buy a lottery ticket, which could be worth millions, and exotic vegetables with names I don’t know how to pronounce.  However, purchasing a container of antibacterial cleaning wipes was another matter.  The cupboard was bare in that department.  I wasn’t trying to buy the wipes because of COVID-19.  I always use them to clean surfaces in my house and I used my last one.  Today, I tried to find them in several more stores and on the internet, with no success.  I am going to have to muddle through with all-purpose cleaning spray, like we did back in the day. 

I do not want to be flip or dismiss the concerns of reasonable people.  First, a global pandemic is not funny.  Second, pragmatically concerned people who stay on the rational side of panic are likely more realistic and certainly more helpful than I am with my somewhat laissez faire attitude about the whole coronavirus thing. 

The weird thing is that I haven’t felt all that scared or anxious about the situation.  Those of you who read my blog regularly know that one of my few talents in life is worrying.  If they had an Olympics for worrying, I’d win a gold medal.  Except they would probably cancel the Worrying Olympics in an attempt to slow the spread of contagion.  I am a world class worrier. For some reason, though, the coronavirus outbreak has barely been a blip on my radar.  I took very little notice until the World Health Organization started calling it a pandemic and Disney closed all its parks.  At that point, I started thinking about it.  I still don’t feel worried. This is a great comfort to my friends who understand my overactive nervous system.  They figure if I, of all people, am not worried, things must not be so hopeless. 

I am glad that people are having conversations about the best ways to handle potential danger. This gives us a chance to look at all options from a variety of perspectives, including how realistic it is for a society to follow a possible protocol. Having many reasonable, educated, analytical minds discuss a situation increases the possibility that all relevant factors and options will be considered.  Having widespread mass communication increases the possibility of public awareness and education, even if it also increases the opportunity for misinformation and panic.  It is important for individuals, families, and organizations start assessing risks and adopting practices to minimize opportunities for infection.  I also think it is important for charitable, service, and religious organizations to mobilize to meet the health, financial, and spiritual needs that will certainly arise from the coronavirus.  It is also important that people operate from a place of practical caution and generosity rather than fear and panic.

Even though I am not racked by worry and fear, I do support efforts to be smart and careful in an uncertain environment. 

There is still a lot that I find ironic and illogical about the reaction to the pandemic.  Trying to reconcile the actions people are taking makes my brain hurt sometimes.  For instance, my community cancelled our chorale concert a month from now, but we hosted a pancake breakfast for 100 the day after the WHO announced it was classifying the coronavirus situation a “pandemic.”  Disney and Universal announced they were closing to the public but continued to operate for two more weekend days.  The movie theater in my town stayed open but decided to sell only half the tickets to each show.   Max and I went to see a movie advertised at a theater about 10 miles from our town. When we got to the movie theater, we found they had decided to close completely until further notice.  However, across the parking lot from the theater, there was a well-populated bar.  A couple participants in my Alpha group at church (which usually has about 20 attendees) decided to stay away from the class because of fear of contagion.  Two other participants were absent last week because they were on a cruise.  A friend of mine’s husband just went from the hospital to an in-patient physical therapy rehabilitation facility. The hospital allowed visitors, but the rehab facility locked down to prevent spread of disease.

I had one of those decisions of my own to make recently.  I am the leader of my Episcopal Church Women small group.   We meet the third Monday of every month.  I didn’t plan to cancel the meeting.  As news became clearer that the risk is not just a personal risk, but also a risk to our public health and safety organizations, I decided to reconsider my position.  I still did not feel any real personal risk (I mention this to reassure the friends that use me as their personal barometer for panic).  I am just now considering another factor in my decision-making.  I don’t want to contribute to overstressing our hospitals and health care personnel to the breaking point.  Lots of people could seem perfectly well and still be carrying the virus.  For most people, catching the virus will likely be inconvenient but not necessarily dangerous.  However, if the hospitals cannot accommodate all the people who are in danger, the result may not be pretty. 

My decision to cobble together a rough virtual meeting instead of having our normal face-to-face meeting involved considering many interests.  I did not consider just the health and public safety interests, although that was part of the equation.  I also considered the spiritual needs of the group, the fellowship advantages, the need to present a faithful and loving example of Christianity to the world, and the interest in making sure that a short-term decision does not become a permanent answer.  My decision was based partly on the fact that our group has a strong relational foundation, that we can and will change our course if the problem continues or we see people fraying around the edges, and that we will still invest face time with people who have needs that we cannot meet over the phone or with electronic communication. 

Another interesting thing about my decision is that it seems inconsistent with a decision I’ve made for myself about another group in my church.  I don’t have the authority to make the decision for the other group, but, unless directed otherwise, I still plan on meeting with them.  I am putting myself in the middle of the exact ironic, apparently illogical conundrum that gives me a brainache.  In the other group, there are some different factors to consider that make me believe, under my set of priorities, that the benefits outweigh the risks.

I guess I’ve found the answer to my quandary.  For every decision we make, especially in the time of COVID-19, there are many factors to weigh.  Everyone will have his or her own matrix of risks, benefits, and priorities for each situation they encounter.  Likely, all those matrices will be different.  I’m going to stop trying to force everything to make sense.  It’s not my job.  My job is just to analyze my own matrix for my own situations and do the best I can. 

How are you fostering a sense of community, companionship, and affection in a world of COVID-19?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a healthy day!  Stay well, my friends… physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Terri/Dorry