It seems odd that in the war against what the President calls the “invisible enemy,” the coronavirus, we – as a nation – are being asked to come together by staying apart. It is understandable, but peculiar nevertheless. From what is reported, that is what we are doing, coming together with recognition that we all are faced with a serious threat by this insidious foe. Most of us are convinced of that, at any rate.
Someone on Facebook suggested that “social distancing” is really not the proper term. “Physical distancing” is the more appropriate label, the Facebooker suggests. That makes sense. Physical distancing, self-isolation, limiting gatherings of no more than three, or ten, or whatever number you choose – those are physical acts. The “social” part is, actually, our coming together in cyberspace, online, in chat rooms, instant messaging, or video conferences by way of Facetime, Zoom, WebX or any other group conferencing app.
Online video get-togethers are not new, of course. Businesses, large and small, have been making use of them for years in our techno-savvy age. But video conferencing seems to have taken on new role as we battle the virus. Those of us who are old enough can remember the early telephone party-lines of our youth, when several people could talk to each other at once courtesy of Ma Bell. Of course, that was not always a convenient thing. Video conferencing is becoming a much more popular “party-line” as we remain apart together. Before the coronavirus became a thing, I met with a half dozen neighborhood guys for coffee at a local restaurant early every Thursday morning. Yes, we gossip. Retirement is good for that. But I digress. We now meet online, armed with a cup o’ joe from our own kitchens. It’s not quite the same, but it will do for now.
The point is, we all are doing what we always do – find ways to cope in times of distress. We are coping in countless different ways, from the homebound seamstresses to the company that makes underwear now producing protective face masks, to the thousands of retired medical professionals who have voluntarily gone back to work to care for the virus infected. They have literally jumped into the frontline trenches of this war. Some restaurants, whose business has been thunderstruck by the pandemic, still turn out meals for curbside service, or to provide sustance to children in need. In Chicago, a company called Closed Loop Farms has turned on a dime to meet the needs of people in these times. The company, which normally supplies the Windy City’s top rated restaurants with mircogreens, now runs what WLS-TV reports is “a virtual farmers market from its website.” They are delivering products to people who are self-isolating. The company’s founder tells WLS, “”It kind of represented an opportunity really just to be able to provide a useful service to people at a time that people are staying at home.”
Some have wondered if the rallying together as a nation is the same as it was after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. It is a rally, to be sure. But there is a difference. After 9/11, we were united by outrage. We had been attacked by terrorists, a tangible entity that we could grasp and at whom we could vent anger and vengence. With the coronavirus, we are united more by fear. This enemy, is indeed, invisible, sneaky, pervasive and, so far, unrelenting. It is hard to become angry at a virus. Being afraid of it? That’s easy. That’s what most of us have in common now.
It is okay to be afraid. However, fear need not be what rules us now. Courage is. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, during one of his coronavirus briefings, quoted President Franklin Roosvelt who said, “Courage is not the the absense of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” Courage is more important. Coming together, even if it means staying apart, is more important.
The journalist and author, Maria Shriver, who is a colleague of mine from days gone by, writes a wonderfully thoughtful blog called Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper. She, too, has given serious thought to this perculiar time of our lives. Maria writes, “We each have our own fears and anxieties right now. We each have our own unknowns and uncertainties.” She has hers. Your have yours. I have mine. But Maria strikes just the right note. Age wise, she classifies herself, as do I, as one of “vulnerable ones” in the age of COVID-19. She says that means we are also among the “experienced ones.”
“I tell my kids,” Maria continues, “that most people my age have been through some stuff and seen some stuff. We have lived through enough hard times to be able to reassure them that there will be light at the end of this tunnel.” I like to think that light is the luminence of the collective courage we all have together.