This weekend, I held a baby for the first time in 15 months. It was delightful and dreadful simultaneously, highlighting the emotional vertigo of pre-post-pandemic life (we’re not there yet, but close!). For we who are fully vaccinated, the doors of freedom and socializing have suddenly sprung open. However, we carry the scientific unknowns of conflicting and incomplete information regarding variants and vaccine efficacy and the emotional baggage of internalized fear of bodies and germs, of harming and being harmed. People in targeted groups carry additional weights of fear of harassment and random violence being perpetrated on their bodies. Whatever the particularities of our situations, most of us stand on a fulcrum between the security of isolation and the threat of connection.
With notable exceptions, for most of human history, connection has meant security and isolation danger. The past 15 months have inverted these meanings. During the pandemic, to show love is to be separate. Coming within six feet was akin to disrespect at best and active violence at worst. But as things become significantly less medically precarious, what do we do now? Simply rewire our brains and get back to normal? Or can we embrace a deeper transformation through this cataclysmic disruption of routine life?
One sentiment I’ve heard from those seeking to gain something from the past year is “COVID-19 has been a great time to scrub the rolodex” (for younger readers, that’s a paper version of your Contacts app). This hints many people are happy with reducing time-sucks or demands that never offered much benefit to begin with, such as connecting with peripheral friends and attending semi-obligatory social functions.
As much as we may enjoy trimming superfluous elements of our routines and relationships, I believe there is a deeper learning to be had from this time. To get there, we must first ask why we became so overextended in the first place. Perhaps it has to do with the intoxication of being wanted, of being needed, of being obligated, of being … necessary. Social media has made it viscerally, visually plain that each of us is a minuscule individual amidst a vast sea of humanity. In the face of such a realization, it is easier than ever to feel deeply and terrifyingly expendable. The endlessly hungry machine of consumptive, colonial capitalism reinforces this sensibility.
Cutting out the fluff of our lives is a perfectly valuable benefit that we can gain from this period, but I believe we can go deeper and address the underlying loneliness and alienation that our busyness has actively distracted us from noticing. Isolation has unveiled, for many, the insufficiency of our pre-pandemic social fabric. My hope is that we will not rush back to the addictive, sprawling, superficial connectivity of the past, but be willing to face the pain and the pleasure of our fraught solitude and fragile belonging.
Rev. Helmiere convenes Valley & Mountain in South Seattle.
Read more of the May 12-18, 2021 issue.