By Betty J.B. Brouwer
There is a frenzied feel in the air, an anxious energy. We are inundated with numerous emails, Slack messages, and Zoom meetings offering guidance on how to deal with CV 19 and how to offer support to others.
These are unprecedented times. What was “normal” is rapidly shifting. We are obsessively checking for updates on the spread of CV 19, refreshing our screens to witness the influx of dark pink on the global map – indicating hot spots of the coronavirus. We are not sure what things will look like when we get to the other side of the curve (whether we flatten it or not). This is, we need to acknowledge, very unsettling and distressing.
We are confronted with an odd mixture of feelings and emotions: fear, grief, and hope. Fear and uncertainty are ever present. We don’t know how long schools, restaurants, shops will remain closed. Grief envelops us as events we were looking forward to are no longer going to happen the way we anticipated they would – high school proms, graduations, and weddings. Grief as trips long dreamt about and planned are cancelled. Even our grieving processes are interrupted as funerals no longer happen as per usual. And hope, hope that we will get to the other side of this curve, that we can rally together and grow collectively continues to persist.
An image I have found to depict these unprecedented times is that of a Salvador Dali painting – strikingly surreal. My life is filled with an odd mixture of emotions. Fear as I am bombarded with daily updates of CV 19 and its devastating impact globally. The images, the stories, feed the fear but alongside that is the mundanely ordinary things – each morning I wake up and greet a new day. Thankful for breath. I do my regular morning routines of self care, walking the dog and breakfast while an eerily quietness settles in, pervading everything.
I have to intentionally pause and look up to sky, look outside and find hope in the normalcy of buds about to burst forth on branches. As the coronavirus spreads, nature seem impervious. In that I find hope.
This is a time of odd pairings. Fear and uncertainty paired with potential and creativity; generosity with hoarding. There is a need to create space to contain and hold these at times competing and conflicting feelings. This needed space for containment is created by enfolding them in the context of relationships despite the requirements to practice social distancing.
In this time of self-distancing and self-isolation there is an increase in and longing for social connectedness, an increase in social capital. People across the globe are reaching out, locally in their neighbourhoods and communities and sharing freely with all. An insatiable desire is growing in people, a desire to live a more interconnected life.
We are wired to be in relationship, we are social creatures. And regardless of the threat of the CV 19 Pandemic, we still need connection. A colleague of mine in the UK mentioned that she and her 90+ year old father have agreed that she will continue to visit him knowing full well that this can increase his likelihood of contracting the virus and potentially dying. Yet the result of her not visiting him would also seriously impact his mortality. Prone to depression, he would wither and die in isolation.
My pastor has been recording himself preaching and posting his sermons on Vimeo for church members and others to watch. He shared that “preaching to a camera in an empty room is tougher than I expected.” He is preaching into a void, without any of the nonverbal feedback from his parishioners. This is unsettling and requires an inordinate amount of energy to override his internal distress, and to visualize his parishioners as he preaches his words to an empty room trusting that they are not falling on dry or rocky ground but on countless thankful hearts in separate and disparate computer screens across the city. In essence preaching to an empty room, he is experiencing “still face” in the absence of any response from others. (See Ed Tronick’s still face experiments). Being mandated to self-isolate does not need to equate to a “still face” experiment.
We see the desire for connection emerging in the creative endeavours that are popping up all over the place, Nashville singers recording themselves singing the same song on their cell phone and sending it to a producer who produced a video of their voices coming together to create a beautiful collective, cohesive song. Or teddy bears popping up in windows of people’s homes so children out on a walk can go on a teddy bear scavenger hunt.
As a society we are finding ways to connect. As much as some people may have deplored the age of social media and increase in screens and technology and its impact on developing minds we are also now experiencing the benefits of these technological advances that allow for connection while maintaining and adhering to safe physical distancing protocols.
In the midst of all this uncertainty we need to take time to pause and know for certain that we are social beings, created and designed to be and flourish in the context of healthy relationships. And in the space of relationships, to find space to hold our fear, grief, and hope. Now more than ever we need to gather to join in our collective humanity, our collective brokenness, to allow space for vulnerability and to be nurtured by social connectedness allowing for seeds of creativity and hope to germinate and burst forth with new ideas and connections.
My hope is that we as a society may be broke open to one another, rather than broken. That while self-isolation is the new societal new, we can continue to strive to be relational. That we journey through this and become a more open, vulnerable, expansive and connected people, joined together and made stronger in our shared weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
We are being called to attend to community whether it be locally within our homes, or more globally. As we are mandated to socially isolate we are collectively discovering that what truly matters to people is our human connection.
Stay apart. Stay safe. Stay creative. Stay connected.