Friday, March 13, 2020

Coronavirus: Being Social in a time of "Social Distancing"

We should not leave anyone behind or exclude anyone in coronavirus times. We can never beat it if anyone is left behind.           --WHO doctor

I want to do everything humanly possible to help create a more caring society so that we can begin to counter the painful loneliness and sense of helplessness which has engulfed too many of our people.   --Rosalyn Carter

We are living in an unprecedented time with Covid-19 where feelings of uncertainty and fear abound. Also, there can be an unrelenting, pounding loneliness that can creep in. All of a sudden quarantines and "social distancing" are a reality right now. Many of our children and even ourselves have never spent much time alone before. The only thing I can compare it with is my grandmothers' stories of the 1918 influenza when they were small children. However, unlike them, we have the technology to keep us connected with the world, loved ones, our neighbors. Yet, in our modern connectivity, do we really connect with others? Does their or our isolation still exist?

I love the story of my Icelandic great-grandmother who climbed on her wagon delivering food on her neighbors' porches--literally keeping them alive. We don't necessarily need to deliver food (maybe toilet paper it sounds like), but we can offer encouragement, cheer, and be an antidote for loneliness for others. Many people live alone, and just hearing a voice or reading a text will be food for them.

As Emily Dickinson wrote, "There is loneliness whose worst alarm is lest itself should see--and perish from before itself for just a scrutiny--The Horror not to be surveyed, but skirted in the dark..." People need people--that is why loneliness is called a global pandemic too--just like Covid-19. In the British government, there is even a "Minister of Loneliness" because they have recognized the severity of the problem.

For the past two months, I have had very little face-to-face contact with human beings. My husband is a CMO in a hospital in China, and he goes to work every day spending long hours there right now. I have a teenage son who has autism who I obviously spend a lot of time with too. Luckily, I speak Chinese. But human interaction has been sparse, extremely sparse--much less than I am accustomed to. I wanted to share a few things I have learned.

                      Some of my lessons of a more secluded life:

1) Real-life continues in quarantines. For one, babies continue to be born. When our friends, a young couple from South Africa, were having problems with a possible premature baby, my husband (and their doctor) discovered they lived in a six-story walk-up--(no elevator), we invited them to come and live with us. They were here with us over a month, she had the baby emergency c-section, and then they are back again with us due to the stairs issue again. We have honestly loved having them here during this time, and having a new baby come home to our house. Her mother cannot come here to China, and his parents have passed away. I know and feel others depending on us. But the truth is: I have been depending on others to help my own family--not saying anything, but just hoping others will help the people I love when I am absent.

A new happy family that has withstood a lot of obstacles having a baby in coronavirus times...

This is the second week my son who is in medical school has influenza--being very ill. Many people are dying of influenza too. As I heard his cough on the phone in China, I hoped and prayed someone would help him. My niece, with five kids of her own, came to the rescue. She drove some soup, rolls, kleenex, disinfectant, and a few other things she thought he might need to his house--about a 30-minute drive. When I heard about her service to my son, her cousin, I was very touched.

No one had asked her. I am over here in China helping a young couple who would be suffering without us right now, but others are helping my son when I cannot be there. I believe in the service cycle that just keeps flowing. I have been helped in difficult and turbulent times, and others have paid it forward for me/us.

Another woman here who heard about the impending birth of our friends (whom she had never seen), gathered clothes for the baby who was coming. When the baby came a few days ago, she had a supply for the next 18 months. My friend dropped them off at the hospital and my husband carried it all home. No malls are open, no Amazon, nothing. But people, strangers to this young couple, came through. As it says in The Book Thief, "I am haunted by humans." Sometimes people's spontaneous goodness just joyously amazes me...

In these coronavirus times, real-life will go on. The intersection of relationships, both individual to individual or within a group is a holy, hallowed gift. I do not take those bonds lightly. There is no denying people will need help with pivotal life events and just ordinary life.

2) Connect with people remotely. With everyone going to school, church, and work online, checking in with real-live people is critically important. Call, text, send a message, a link, a story, a song, play an online/remote game, give an idea for a children's craft project, organize a children's book group online. Currently, I talk to a Chinese woman twice a week on the phone. We converse both in English and Chinese, mutually helping one another's language skills. Contact especially people who live alone. You don't have to necessarily physically show up, but it is needful to connect. Love can come through with a text or phone call.

Checking in to my son who has influenza and is all by himself. 

3) Make a special effort to talk to family and friends at this time. I have heard of many relationships being healed, nourished, and strengthened in this Coronavirus time. Conversations that would not have been articulated months before have been shared. Love and laughter have increased or returned.

4) Have fun with the people in your own four walls.  Make a list with those people of the fun things you have been planning on doing that you rarely have time for. Make ice cream, press some wildflowers, make a recipe you have wanted to for a long time, do an art project, sing or write a song, play a board game, tell some stories, dance together, take an online tour of a museum. Push out the fear and make some memories that you will all remember...

Learning how to make South African truffles...

Playing games and taking the time to make memories...

Indeed, thriving in families, communities, and relationships is really important in coronavirus times. We must all feel certain in our uncertainties--knowing that people will be there for us to give us strength, love, and confidence when we need rebuilding. It is time to learn to show love in new ways--perhaps like we have never done before. 

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