With social distancing strategies in place, I think about the lonely salamander out there under the sun on a hot dry day.
A salamander is a reptile that thrives best in a cool, dark wet place in swampy areas. If it steps out into an unfamiliar place, it scampers back to its place of comfort and stays there.
With social distancing and self-isolation guidelines strategy, I feel like the salamander. Out under the sun, I am anxious about the heat and unfamiliar territory and I am being forced to adapt. I am being told not to go back to my natural habitat of comfort and safety, or risk my safety and that of others.
When this concept of social distancing first entered my lexicon, my instant reaction was: are you kidding me? You see, I am a very tactile person, given to touching others to express affection. Can I share a little secret here? There are still those occasional nights when I would sneak into my grown-up daughters’ beds to give them bodily hugs, a practice that others may consider err…uncivilized or invasive. I love to hug friends and families and hold hands with them. I also love to hang out with friends in coffee shops or in homes, talking about everything and nothing.
So imagine how I struggled with the idea of having to rewire something that has been so deeply lodged in my brain and to force me to think differently than what I was used to. Someone I know who is also very tactile, said he would rather die than stop hugging. I couldn’t relate more with that.
But as I began to appreciate the magnitude of the danger of Covid-19 virus and how it has claimed the lives of thousands of people all over the world, I felt the pressure to conform much stronger than the pressure to defy. We could literally die if we don’t stay away from others! It was no longer an option but a necessity. And what I was being asked to give up is so little compared to the huge burden being placed on our doctors, nurses, paramedics and other front liners going out on a limb to save someone like me and the most vulnerable among us. By staying home and by doing nothing, I am actually doing something.
Those who naturally gravitate towards others can relate with me when I say that this new normal isn’t normal at all. My daughter’s patience is wearing thin (and understandably so) especially when there seems to be no end in sight. Life seems shallower, more like survival than living. I miss having face to face conversations with friends, when I am out shopping, having small group meetings or having coffee dates or simply striking in-person conversations with friends and strangers alike. These are what enrich my social identity and now, all of these things have to be set aside.
And how I still struggle to this day. And I know you do too. Why? Because we are social beings. Because we are created for relationships. Because we are not meant to be alone. Social isolation is an onslaught to our DNA. This need for connection is literally built into our biology. As the salamander seeks its natural habitat, we human beings seek human connections as our source of comfort and safety.
It scares me to realize that this invisible, untouchable, inaccessible virus can wreak so much havoc not just in taking away precious lives, shutting down our societies and the world economic systems but also in reshaping out relationships as human beings. In the history humankind, our social connections have served us well, but right now, for our own physical protection, we need to disconnect and pull away.
Thankfully, we are not powerless. This virus doesn’t have to defeat us. There may be things outside of our control, but there are definitely things that are still within our control. This virus should not limit our capacity to reach out to others and maintain connection.
So for a couple of times now, I have been holding virtual meetings with my friends and small groups, thanks to the great power of technology. Don’t we all appreciate how technology and the social media are such strong enablers of social connection? I’m not a very techie person, but overnight, I was able to master different kinds of platforms, such as duo, google meet, zoom, house party and what not. Our meetings have been great so far and were as engaging as in-person meetings. We have been able to help each other navigate thorough the challenges of these confusing times, encourage each other and point each other to God, our greatest source of hope. Our church may have cancelled our events and Sunday worship services, but we have not stopped being The Church as we continue to care for one another.
And equally important: we have been able to maintain connection with each other. Of course, nothing replaces face-to-face in person interaction and some of us are a little uncomfortable with this new normal, but then again, virtual connection is better than no connection at all.
Truth be told: I think this is the only way to maintain our sanity and social well-being.
All of us are now living into new daily rhythms, which maybe disorienting but are also proving that we can still stay connected even when we are being asked to isolate ourselves. True enough, social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation.
We remember the words of Paul in Colossians 2:5: For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am one with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.
This virus maybe shaping the way we live, but it should never prevail over our capacities to seek deep connections and to continue to nurture those important relationships in our lives.