Outside the window: Why social distancing might actually be too easy 

Life is suddenly paused on a global scale, and yet it isn’t. While a new contagion runs merrily about, invisibly complicating all our lives and possibly endangering our loved ones, we find ourselves looking for a balance between caution and common sense, panic and protection, self-preservation and a little sanity. 

I don’t know why they bought all the toilet paper. As a nurse I can officially inform you that it cannot prevent a viral infection, and it certainly won’t cure one. I suppose it will prevent having to get unpleasantly creative if all the stores officially close, but that’s about it. I mean, we still have running water, at least for now… But I think it’s a little like when one of my children would be having a temper tantrum (excuse me, I think I’m supposed to call it “having really big emotions”), and so I would logically pace throughout the house, urgently putting dishes in the dishwasher and frantically tidying up clutter, because it helps somehow. We are all just seeking some sense of control in a situation we really can’t control. That’s human nature. That part I understand. 

But I honestly don’t spend much time thinking about toilet paper. My thoughts are turning toward all this talk of social distancing and how crucial it could be to essentially starve out this virus, preventing it from gaining access to our loved ones, our children, our grandparents. I work in a clinic that provides life-saving treatments to patients, because cancer never pauses, not even for another health crisis. I’m not really scared of my ability to recover if I get sick. I am mindful of not passing my version of sickness on to someone who can’t recover. So ultimately this is not panic and self-preservation that we are engaging in, but social responsibility and thoughtful protection for all members of our community. 

And here’s the thing — I can’t help but wonder how many of us feel like social distancing is not that foreign of a concept already. Yes, I had to cancel a much looked-forward-to brunch with a bunch of awesome friends this weekend that I rarely see, and my kids will be “homeschooling” like most of the others (in reality that means a LOT of Lego Ninjago for the next month). The large-scale social distancing certainly is felt in many real and inconvenient ways. But I’m realizing I may have been engaging in my own personal version of social distancing for years now. 

I didn’t mean to. When I was in junior high, high school, even college, my friends were my world. I always enjoyed a bit of alone time, but also needed my friends desperately. They added so much laughter to my life, and helped me survive all the difficult parts. No experience was complete, particularly the most embarrassing ones, without a great friend at my side to laugh about it with later. 

But life moves on and relationships naturally change, and as I grew up, the world around me changed too. I got my first e-mail account when I was a freshman in college, sent my first flip-phone text message in nursing school (nursing school came several years after “traditional” college), took my first smart phone camera photo of my 4-month-old son, and don’t even remember when I switched from Myspace to Facebook. My new family became my world, and the friendships moved more and more into a virtual space. 

All this easy connectivity is great, if what one longs for is knowing about someone’s life in bright beautiful pictures and clever quotes. And while I’m a part of these online networks as much as the rest, there’s no denying that this open window into one another’s lives can sometimes mask the reality (or sometimes emphasize it?) that we are actually just standing outside someone else’s window looking in, not actually sharing life on the inside like we used to. 

I don’t know the better alternative. The world is wide and time can force distance between the closest of relationships. I’m not advocating for shutting down the social platforms that connect us (especially now, with physical contact so taboo). But while we’re in our homes sheltering from chaos outside, maybe we can use this time to reach out in other ways to those who matter to us, those we miss, those we may have even lost along the way. What about using this social distancing to start a relationship-building movement? What about finding a way to bridge the distance with that person who is entering your mind right now? There’s no right or wrong way to do this. But let’s let people know we care, that we are real on the other side of our screens, and that we still want to walk through life together. Let that be how we socially distance in this season, and perhaps we can come through this experience even stronger. 

So, to summarize my somewhat scattered thoughts on COVID-19: Wash your hands, don’t cough on people, don’t feel too guilty if you happen to have a LOT of toilet paper in your closet right now, connect with the people you want to connect with, take this seriously and be safe. And if you’re looking for some relaxing piano music to pass the time while you’re stuck at home, you might want to give Broken Song a try.

Laura Poblete

03/14/20


Laura Poblete 
About the author 

The Broken Piano
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