The worst of times can bring out the best

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
This opening sentence from Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” refers to the social upheaval of
French Revolution. But in a sense in could describe life in these days of the Coronavirus.
It is a time of fear, as we hear worldwide statistics about the virus’ increasing incidence.
It’s a time of hardship, as many social programs and institutions cancel or close in order to halt the
spread of the disease.
It’s a time of anxiety, as we worry about the more vulnerable members of our community.
Yet this may also prove to be a time of growth. As in any crisis — and this is one of international
proportions — most of us are rising to the challenge.
Though some individuals are hoarding food and supplies, most shoppers are still polite and purchasing
reasonable amounts. Neighbors are checking on neighbors, especially the elderly and those in compromised
health. People want desperately to help and are disappointed that social distancing prevents them from
some of their normal volunteer activities.
Though this is a new situation for us, we are mostly facing it optimistically.
What impresses me the most is that most people are not worried about getting sick themselves.
My professor friends report that their students fear bringing the virus home to their families as the
university closes down. Before the primary was canceled, poll workers I know were less concerned about
contracting the virus than about spreading it to voters.
I’m only 64 but younger friends have offered to run errands and shop for me because I’m in the high-risk
older population (thanks, I guess…).
Not knowing what the near future will bring is causing the most stress. We’ve never seen a worldwide
pandemic quite like this in our lifetimes. (As a very articulate woman I know phrased it, “Fear of the
unknown in the most contagious virus of all.”)
Church and business closings and concert, conference and travel cancellations may be for only a few
weeks, or may go on for who knows how long. The lifestyle changes these shutdowns create are
unprecedented.
Though we’re not locked in the same way communities in China, Iran and Italy are, health officials have
instructed us to practice social distancing. This means avoiding crowds and keeping 6 feet between
ourselves and others we meet in public. Routines we rely on have changed or disappeared. In many
communities, church services are canceled for the foreseeable future. My knitting group has suspended
meeting for at least a few weeks. We’re trying to find a way to compensate by group Skyping, with mixed
results.
This is difficult, and I’m glad it is.
The restrictions of COVID-19 serve to flatten the curve of the disease’s spread, but they also serve to
remind us of something very important: people need each other. Being cut off from other human beings is
the worst fate most of us can imagine. Reducing our contacts with others hurts.
The biggest hardship we’re undergoing in the days of this epidemic — bigger than shuttered restaurants
and scarcity of some commodities — is not being able to socialize in the same way. We’re used to meeting
in groups for entertainment, instruction and worship. We rely on getting together with friends to keep
abreast of each other’s news.
Yes, social media can be a boon in times like these, and the telephone can sometimes be “next best thing
to being there,” but nothing replaces a handshake or hug from a friend. Physical contact is as important
as air and water.
Those of us lucky enough to live with families still have this contact. But for our neighbors who live
alone, the social isolation being recommended will truly be a hardship.
What can we do to help? Phone our single friends and neighbors. Offer to run errands for the homebound.
Keep up with those who live alone on social media. Even in a time of restricted contact, no one needs to
be completely alone.
Keeping in touch will help us keep things in perspective. With the proper precautions, this epidemic
won’t last forever, but our need for each other won’t ever go away. It’s what makes us human.