This week’s post contains a new feature—an experiment if you will. I’ve long appreciated the perspectives of my West Coast colleague, Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs. Both of us have served on the national staff of the United Church of Christ and I’ve been privileged to work with Art for more than two decades. I asked him to join me in a dialogue post to give readers different perspectives on the issues of our day. Today’s topic is a question on everyone’s mind: how do we reach out effectively in an age of social distancing? Art starts us off:
Art: In the forced effort to adjust to this unprecedented and most peculiar global assault by the Coronavirus, life has taken multiple turns that have brought me closer to my family and friends nearby and those who are scattered around the world. Fortunately, we have lived long enough to access technology that did not exist even ten years ago. At least, it was not generally available to the public. Now, we can reach out and touch family and friends via the Internet. We see their faces and hear their voices. No masks, gloves, or protective clothing required to feel and experience being together. And, for those who are nearby, we elbow bump each other even as we maintain our imposed six feet of social distance.
One of the things I’ve noticed is the joy and appreciation that come with each virtual conversation and contact. No hugging and kissing, but touching hearts and souls through technology closes gaps and keeps love alive. We can still “reach out and touch” someone with a telephone call, on social media, a hand-written letter or note, or a wave to someone a few feet away. A simple shout-out, “Hi, Neighbor! How are you doing?” are ways we can connect and touch and be touched by others.
Bob: Five years ago, I had my hip replaced. About six months later, I was in our small rest room at Intersections when unexpectedly, that same hip suddenly dislocated and I collapsed in unbelievable pain (and—I must admit—fear). Why was my foot pointing in such a strange direction? Had my hip shattered? I was stuck, wedged against the door in that small bathroom as members of NYFD worked heroically to extricate me. My friend and colleague, Fred Johnson, was on the other side of the door. I couldn’t see him, but he held my hand for the longest time as the fire fighters freed me. Intellectually, I knew about the power of touch, but at that moment I felt that power first-hand.
In a moment of pain and uncertainty, it was Fred’s touch that got me through it. So, while I agree, Art, that new technology can bring us together in ways that make us seem closer, the power of physical contact is irreplaceable.
Art: Bob, you are absolutely right. There is no real substitution for physical touch. We need it. I crave it. But, in this most unusual moment, many of us have to rely on distant communication, including FaceBook, FaceTime, Zoom, and other media just to see and hear people we love. In addition to the visual contacts, I also find myself writing more emails and text messages. In fact, I have heard from friends and relatives who just wrote me a note to check up and inquire about my health.
And, of course, I have reached out to people I haven’t talk to in a long time just to see how they are doing. Each message has been a real gift that connects us and reminds us we are not going through this period alone. Words really do matter. Just knowing someone cares about us and takes time to write and check-up actually elevates our spirit. People are tied together in ways that define our humanity. Words provide love notes and “get well” concerns and sentiment. Just knowing someone is thinking about us and taking the time to write a word inspires us to get up every day and to be surprised by someone who will touch us or we can touch someone. Words of kindness provide sufficient inspiration to carry us through this period of uncertainty. Showing concern for others is an act of love; something the world needs right now.
Bob: I hear you, Art, but for those like me who are not skilled in the use of social media, I miss out on voice intonation and body language when I’m not physically with someone. So, word choice becomes more important than ever. Back in the sixties, I was at a peace rally in Washington, DC—actually, it was a counter protest to a pro-Vietnam War, “Bomb the Hell out of Hanoi” demonstration. One dear soul, an older woman, engaged me on the street trying to tell me how it was my duty as a Christian to bomb the heathen Viet Cong into oblivion.
She became increasingly agitated. When she finally realized that she would not be able to convert me to her position, she exploded with fiery venom in her voice: “Well, God bless you!” Clearly, she did not say what she meant. Her words were gentle; but her tone was brutal and condemning. In today’s unique time of stay-at-home mandates when we cannot be together face-to-face, we do not always have the electronic tools to enhance the words we use. Therefore, we need to be really careful to say what we actually mean. As you say, Art, “words really do matter.”
Art: One of the obvious outcomes of the Coronavirus scare is a kind of global “timeout.” I find myself losing track of days and time. I sleep longer and stay up later without much concern about being on time to work or a meeting. The self-quarantine directive provides space to relax, reflect, meditate, and, simply, rest. The “work ethic” is taking a vacation. And, there is NO GUILT! No doubt the Universe is being renewed from all the toxins and pollutants it endures from the busyness of our constant motion, production, and contamination. Not going to work or spending time in public requires some adjustment both mentally and emotionally. But, there is a grand reward that our bodies and souls have enjoyed as we take time to get more in touch with our inner-being. Separation from others, physically, allows us to feel ourselves in more wholesome and healthy ways. We have been given an opportunity to listen to birds chirping, smell fragrances filling our nostrils, feeling our heartbeats, and looking up to watch scattered clouds or clear skies.
In truth, we are not apart or separated from anyone or anything. This “timeout” allows us to take notice of our connections and interdependence on Nature and other people. We are all in this moment together. We can see, listen, feel, and experience the vastness of Life and know without doubt the grandeur of Creation and our varied relationships. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of this moment is not knowing with certainty and clarity when the ALL CLEAR announcement will come. We may fear the unknown. But, living in this moment with awareness of true life and its powerful ability to sustain us may be all we need to know as this protracted experience passes and life, no doubt altered, continues.
Bob: This doubled-edged sword is important for us to understand. On the one hand, our current pause can lull us into complacency. I agree, Art, that time and energy are eclipsed. As we obey the instruction to stay home, the horrific pressures on health care professionals appalls us and their heroic response inspires us. The devastating uncertainty and fear when we hear of someone stricken by coronavirus who struggles for their very breath can seem so far away…until it hits close to home. Then, it becomes all too real.
But, there is the other side of this coin: the world can heal a bit as pollution subsides during the shutdown; we can take the time to appreciate the wonders of creation; we can write a poem or read a book, call a friend or meditate until…we know not when…the busyness of life returns and we are called again to join with one another in the worldwide recovery from this horrible pandemic.
And now, dear reader, we invite you to join this dialogue. Simply add your thoughts to the comments section below and check back from time to time to see what others are saying. Let me know if you’d like to see other dialogue posts; if interest warrants, we can turn this into a regular thing! Stay safe. And remember, we’re all in this together.
Art and Bob