In the Meantime
I am in Michigan this week, being nourished by my spouse of 44 years. That does not mean food, though I had a fabulous homemade split pea soup on Monday evening. What I mean is the irreplaceable nourishment of human company. Yes, thanks to technology we can see each other during this pandemic, but that does not equal actual human company. We are social creatures, which even I as a proud introvert need and celebrate. We benefit, are fed in spirit, by the presence of other people near us.
An old Latin phrase comes to mind, “mens sana in corpore sano,” a sound mind in a sound body. Conversely, when our body struggles, so does the mind and heart. Physical pain, hunger, and yes, isolation all try the spirit.
We are all dealing with isolation, which derives from another Latin word, insulam, island. Though we can see and hear others, we are literal islands, defying John Donne’s famous phrase, “no man (sic) is an island.” And that, no doubt, is part of why the infection rate has been climbing. Some call it pandemic fatigue, and it is, but it is also the starvation of the skin for the touch of other people.
The next few weeks will be especially hard because it is a time when family and friends gather. That is not wise this year, and no responsible leader would encourage it. Indeed, we in leadership should warn of the real danger of being too close to people, even those dear to you. Yet we should also show how to compensate for the loss we all feel. Well, here goes:
Send actual letters and cards, not email or virtual cards. Send a physical object you made, with your actual writing on it, to those beyond your physical reach.
Touch the earth. Get outside and walk on actual ground. Lean against a tree. Handle some dirt. Feel stuff.
Smell things. Unlike sight and sound, smell is a sensation that happens inside you. My sense of smell is much weaker now, so when I do notice an aroma it is a moment of bodily delight.
Consider a Thanksgiving meal made from foods indigenous peoples ate, that would grow around here. The famous three sisters – corn, squash and beans – were at the heart of the O’odham peoples who lived in Arizona before Europeans arrived.
Nothing can replace the nourishment other people provide us, but we are nourished by other things that can be touched and felt. Bring that world closer through touch and smell and taste, by making things that can be sent and shared. Who knows, it may turn out the absence of people now could be the door to presences we never noticed before. Only if you seek them out, though.
But we have always been a ‘seeker’ religion, right? This is our gift.