COVID Kindness: Don’t Forget the “Social” in Social Distancing

Western fairy slipper orchid
(Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis)
Mount Storm King Trail,
Olympic National Park, Washington,
(ancestral lands of the Klallam and Quileute)

I’ve always loved how jaunty little western fairy slipper orchids appear to grin so brightly from the trailside shadows at woodland passersby. As hikers, we, too, are used to greeting perfect strangers we encounter on wilderness trails (even if we aren’t so gregarious elsewhere) because we see commonality in our shared experience and community space.  On a massive scale, the current COVID-19 pandemic gripping our world has similarly united all humans in a single endeavor against a common threat to our global community.  We’re all in this crisis together, whether ill or bereaved ourselves, courageously caring for others, relentlessly researching treatments, or simply enduring the crushing suppression of our freedom and livelihoods.  And, in these dark times, we still have opportunity to cheer our comrades, even in small ways, as we navigate the social distancing enforced to combat the crisis. To our core, we know it’s not human to be so detached from those around us, yet we understand what is required to weather this pandemic with least loss of life and strain on our governments and healthcare systems. I live in an ordinarily amiable and inclusive neighborhood.  Not surprisingly, when COVID-19 quarantine measures were first implemented, neighbors taking their permitted daily exercise smiled and excused themselves graciously for the awkward social distancing. It was a way of acknowledging the discomfort and affirming the positive intent behind it. But since then, I’ve noticed a shift, even in my otherwise good-natured neighborhood. While passing, many now quickly avert their eyes, turn their backs abruptly, become suddenly preoccupied with their phones, or even clasp their hands over their noses and mouths (which is not, by the way, a safe or effective means of avoiding the virus!). Collective suspicion and shame that we may all harbor an unknown and infectious pathogen seem to seep insidiously into our consciousness, possessing our minds, too, and wedging us even further apart. But that doesn’t diminish our humanity. To the contrary, our sacrifices for the greater good confirm it. We can still acknowledge one another as fellow beings, even if from an appropriate — and yes, social — distance.  We must be distanced for a time, but no less present, no less human.  As you go about your restricted activities, remember to at least acknowledge the others sharing the same shrunken space.  For those who live alone with no in-person interaction permitted for the foreseeable future, it may be all they get.  Smile, wave, or just say “hi” as you respectfully detour around one another.  Be that jaunty bloom that brightens a bit of darkness in its surrounding world.


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