Social Distancing… But How Distant Are We?

By Casey Sterle

In just a few short weeks our world has changed drastically.

Days that would have been spent at the office––chatting with other people, sharing jokes and snacks over meetings––and nights at the crowded bar––playing pool and darts––have been replaced by this new thing we call social distancing.   If someone had asked me to do that back in February, I might not have even understood the reference. But today… today I know exactly what it means. Because today, in the midst of a pandemic, we are living in a new world where we have to stay distant. 

Yet… oddly enough, we may also be a closer and more connected world than ever before. 

For months (years, decades, all of eternity), we have been separated by semantics, politics, religion, ideology… you name it. If people can be on different sides, they are. We have highlighted our differences and, often, instead of valuing or celebrating those differences we have misused the opportunities and polarized many conversations. Without even realizing it, we have been emotionally distancing from one another for years. Many have even stopped discussing any of these topics at all because the exchanges can get heated and hurtful. At some point we stopped connecting and started competing

Social media has, in so many ways, deepened these conflicts.  Typing hate and spreading negativity is easier than ever when hiding behind a keyboard and screen.  And it’s hard not to feel a little disconnected when your feed is full of impossibly happy people living their best lives all of the time.   

Not to mention, older generations have been critical of a new generation that spends too much time on technology. Our new, tech-y youth have been chastised for not respecting social contact or developing emotional relationships. Heck just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe the amount of people I knew who began their significant relationships online instead of meeting in person. But now … who are we asking for help? A generation that has built relationships, businesses and so much more on technology. A group of young people that can teach us the art of virtual connecting as we learn to social distance. 

I know I’m guilty. I would hassle my children for being on their technology too much. I would say they were not connecting with people as humans. And they would tell me that they were and I don’t understand. I’m going to be honest here, I still think personal interaction is super important but they were right, I didn’t understand.  I didn’t see the value in this tool they have already learned how to use, but now I am learning too and thank goodness they are willing to teach.

Which is almost funny, because I’m a teacher by trade and now I am the one learning, but I am so grateful. I love this new tool for connecting because I am missing my students more than I ever thought possible. Sure, I’ve been on breaks before. I love holiday breaks as much as the next teacher but there is always a plan and there is always a beginning and an end. This doesn’t have that. Not at all. There is so much unknown that it makes it sad, scary and in some ways downright frightening.

But if there is an upside, let me say this. I am connecting with my students in ways that I have resisted. In ways that I thought were impersonal. In ways that I thought made me less human. I am growing and learning something new and I’m realizing that it is possible to feel really connected in these moments through technology. Does it take the place of human contact?  Certainly not but in times that call for drastic measures instead of dwelling in the deep abyss we are rising to the surface and waving our arms at one another. And, in its own way, it is beautiful.

Even though it made me nervous at first, I have been posting a story on facebook to the families in my community every day and they are loving it. They thank me and send me pictures of their children enjoying the stories that they cannot go to school to hear, and it warms my heart so much.  In spite of my hesitation, I found a way to connect online and I know I am not the only one. We are finding ways around the isolation!

As a survivor, I have often felt alone in a crowded room. It is difficult because you are often wondering who might understand your story. Because it is our stories that connect us. We have felt for so long that our stories were different … that our experiences were so drastic that no one could relate. Those differences were coming up in heated discussions about politics, education and religion. 

But now, suddenly, we are all in the same boat. It’s humans versus a virus, and we are finally united. We are making it through, together–we are rising from the ashes and connecting in so many wonderful ways. We are helping each other out, doing each other favors, and cheering each other on. I have seen beautiful stories of people who are making face masks for hospitals in need and delivering food and supplies to those who aren’t able to get it themselves.  Every day there is good news about humans coming through and taking care of each other. We all might be alone in our quarantines, but with all this love it feels like we are in a crowded room.

We are making better connections than ever. As humans, we are hardwired for connection. We are socially distanced but our hearts are still reaching out. This is who we are. We can do this together at a social distance.