WILL THE NEW SOCIAL DISTANCING BRING US CLOSER TOGETHER?
Just a few weeks ago, most Americans had never heard the term “social distance.” Now we are told we must practice it. Until the Coronavirus curve is flattened, we must stay at home. The offices are closed. The schools are closed. Even the church doors are shuttered. We are to work from home, homeschool the kids, and stay in our houses and apartments except for occasional scavenger hunts for groceries and toilet paper.
We can take a walk through our neighborhood, but we are told that when we do, we should stay at least six feet away from other walkers.
The truth is that most of us have been practicing some form of social distancing for years. No, we haven’t stayed away from our offices, schools, churches, movies and sporting events. But ironically, we have often been alone together.
In an increasingly polarized America, we have used our phones not so much for conversations but for text and emails we receive and send throughout the day with no face to face contact with recipients.
Even when dining out with family and friends, we have often sat together but apart looking at our phones.
Social media has become an oxymoron, as many of us have not been social when accessing it. More often than not, we have confined ourselves to viewing websites that simply reinforce our own beliefs, and in fact ridicule people with beliefs and viewpoints different from our own. And not coincidentally, there has been a dramatic decline of civility in our nation.
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are now having to practice a new and more dramatic form of social distancing. It has been painful and frightening. But from what I have observed over the last several days from the home front in this war on Coronavirus, I believe the new social distancing may be bringing us closer together. Not physically, of course, but spiritually and emotionally.
My family and friends are now gathering via Skype and Zoom. My wife and I have enjoyed two virtual dinners during the past week with our children who are in New York and Boston, and with dear friends across the state.
My men’s Bible study group is now “zooming” together each week.
I am getting and sending texts and having phone conversations every day from friends who want to know that my family and I are safe and healthy. And I am making such calls and sending such texts myself.
When I take a daily walk through my neighborhood I am greeted by neighbors a safe distance away, waving and wishing me good health. I respond with a smile and a similar greeting.
My wife is conducting business and board meetings via online conferences.
We need community. And people are working very hard to create and sustain virtual communities.
We are all looking forward to that wonderful day when the pandemic is behind us, and we can come together again at work and in schools, at worship and at play, breaking bread and sharing conversations together at restaurants and neighborhood parties where we will not have to stand six feet apart.
Perhaps when that wonderful time comes, we will be closer than ever, and there will be less social distancing because of the new social distancing we are now sharing.