In Other Words: Social Distancing

I had to mail a prepaid package, so I took a walk to the post office to drop it off. "What's it like out there?" I was asked. We are in a moment to which we have nothing to compare, where life appears surreal. The Twilight Zone came to mind, and when I found a video of the intro, this sentence popped out: "and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge." (Never mind the "man" part, it was from 1959.)

What was it like in my corner of California? It was like a Sunday morning when everyone is sleeping late, except for the youth, who have to go out and walk the family dog. One of the Little Free Libraries on my route was empty, not wanting to encourage the handling and rehandling of the books by strangers. A bus whooshed by, with only the bus driver in evidence.

I felt the need to smile or say hello when I passed someone, as is my usual, but older people looked at me suspiciously and younger ones ignored me. At a bus stop a woman sat reading the newspaper, three bags of groceries on the bench by her side. Peet's Coffee was open, but the outside chairs were stacked, the umbrella closed, one couple on a bench outside. One restaurant, empty. Outside another, a young man on his phone explaining that he had walked the dog fifteen minutes ago and was now at the taquería with two friends. The book store had a sign telling customers not to bring in their used books, suspending all the buying. Another bus drove down the avenue with one passenger.

On my way back, I walked up the hill to say hello to the new chickens, and could see that their coop was open to the backyard, and a little girl was conversing with them.

In the midst of hard times, jokes are likely to sprout, an outlet for fear and worry, between that pit of despair and summit of relief. Humor keeps us sane. A friend told me her late mother lived through the pandemic of 1918 and used to say, "I opened the window and influenza." The friend also sent me a video of an Italian café scene where a woman orders a coffee, and the barista makes it and places it on a Roomba®, which he controls and sends to her table; she sends back a tip, then asks for sugar, and so it goes. A humorous comment on "social distancing."

We have been instructed to keep our "social distance." Our words color how we view the world. But socially we are all in this together, an unsettling culture we are sharing: keeping our physical distance, washing our hands, avoiding unnecessary gatherings and errands, being cautious, and for good reasons. In the midst of this upheaval, along with the jokes, art can be valuable. To make and to view, to listen, and to write and to read. To both keep our spirits up and to provide a release for our uneasiness, from our frustration and fear. To document a moment in time, a moment in our lives. And to point out or think about what we are missing, particularly what is lacking for those who are less fortunate, who have fewer options.

A letterpress printer in Seattle sent me a quote (that I also found in a Washington Post article, which was originally posted on a Facebook page) by modern-orthodox Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky. He wrote of his concern regarding the phrase, "social distancing," and suggested that every time we physically avoid others we reach out to them emotionally. Make calls, express "warmth and concern," and think about how we might be of help to others. It's a long and beautifully written quote, an expression of compassion.

Stay safe. But stay close, somehow.

Some links:
Why social distancing?

"Coronavirus Is a Test That No One Knows How to Pass" by Dan Zak

"Please Don't Go Out to Brunch Today" by Charlie Warzel


apiecefullife said…
I like that quote. I am making an effort to call one or two friends every day and get back to my blogging.
We do need a little humour though:

Your grandparents were called to war. You're being called to sit on the couch. You can do this.
Alisa said…
That made me smile. Thanks for the joke! Much appreciated.