Today is Friday, March 13, 2020. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and there is the very distinct feeling that the floor is falling from under our feet. This is a strange, confusing, terrifying moment, and all I want to do is hold everyone as close as I possibly can.
But for now, closeness (at least with those outside the household) is not the protocol. For now, we need distance. Social distance to be precise. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me that is really hard.
I had never heard the term “social distancing” until a few days ago, and now it is ubiquitous. When I first heard it, it made me think about all the different types of distance there actually are. Physical distance, emotional distance, temporal distance, geographical distance. And then when I started thinking about these things, I noticed I was filled with a strange feeling that I can’t really name. It was like longing and homesickness and melancholy all rolled into one. I felt like a child separated from my mother. And the only thing I wanted was to close the distance and run back home.
This afternoon I was in the yard with my six-year old daughter. She was playing in her own little world, and I was doing some yard work about ten feet away from her but not in her direct line of vision. Out of nowhere she looked up and said, “Mama?” with more than a hint of concern in her voice. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “I just wanted to know where you were” and went back to playing.
This exchange gave me pause. The physical distance between us was practically nothing, but she still needed the reassurance that I was there. For a brief little flash, the distance scared her.
Distance scares me too. It makes me feel like I will be abandoned or forgotten. Distance makes me insecure about how people feel about me, whether they want me around. It triggers my inner tween monologue; “People are distant from you because they don’t like you.”
And here we are at this strange moment, where the loving thing to do is to give one another distance. It feels so foreign and counter-intuitive to me, and yet I know that it is necessary. Truth be told, there are plenty of times in my life where some distance was called for, and I was incapable of delivering it. Maybe one small upshot of this whole thing is that we will all get better at allowing some distance when it is needed. And maybe we can figure out some new and creative ways of loving and connecting across that distance.
For now, I just want to hug all of you through these words on a screen. There is distance between us, but it won’t last forever.