Balancing “Social Distancing” with Love in this Time of COVID-19
Take a breath. A long, deep breath. Feel into yourself.
How is your heart?
What emotions are coursing through you?
Can you feel the fear enveloping our planet?
Now take another breath and relax for just a few minutes while I tell you the short version of a sad story. It’s about what I lived through, and the light it shines on our shared journey with the current pandemic, COVID-19.
When I was six years old, my dad moved our family of four into a tiny travel trailer because he didn’t want his children to attend public school. Although he said he didn’t want us to get bullied, the true reason for his decision was revealed when he abruptly announced that we would no longer eat our grandma’s cooking. He told us she was too dirty.
Our move into the trailer was the first iteration of what became a long, painful descent. My dad began creating all sorts of rules about what we could touch and how we were to wash our hands. Eventually, he forced us to live in extreme social isolation. It is not an exaggeration to say that almost my entire childhood was spent in quarantined lockdown.
I could tie my shoes, but I had to wash my hands every time I did. I could never pet any dog or cat because, I was told, they carried germs and disease. In my dad’s view, no amount of hand washing could correct for that.
The same held for touching our food. There were detailed and specific protocols for washing our hands before preparing our food, but once the food was ready to eat, we could not under any circumstances touch it no matter how well we had washed our hands..
Some of my dad’s thinking made sense. He was an intelligent man who employed impeccable logic in much of his reasoning. But his justifications for his stringent cleanliness rules often felt illogical. No real surprise given that he was also mentally ill. My dad’s obsessive compulsive disorder and social paranoia not only led him to make and enforce ludicrous rules, but it also prevented him from bringing any love or kindness to his pursuit of hygiene.
In his view, people were an unnecessary risk to our wellbeing. My dad saw people as dirty on the inside as well as the outside. For that reason he began enforcing an additional set of rules designed to achieve our complete isolation.
Soon, he unplugged our phone and censored all incoming and outgoing mail. He refused the few visitors who asked to come see us in our tiny trailer. As he forbade us to visit other people, my world shrank to the confines of the trailer with only the companionship of my mother and my sister. When he wasn’t working, my paranoid dad was there too. But as you might guess, his presence was not particularly soothing. .
With each new twist of his brain, our lives became more and more contracted and isolated. It’s true he had an overwhelming need to control us. But when I think about it now, I see he was also trying to control his fears by controlling what was outside of him.
When I turned 18, and finally left the hell my dad had constructed and forced me to live in all my young life, I couldn’t wait to be with people. For a time, I used drugs to dull the pain of my childhood. And I took more risks than most.
Eventually I got clean and sober. I adopted a lifestyle that included a healthy attention to my wellbeing. And my world blossomed to include loving connections with lots and lots of people.
Now, as the world faces a global pandemic that asks each of us to practice “social distancing,” I am asking myself a very important question. How can I navigate this current health crisis with as much love as possible?
I know how painful life can be when we cut ourselves off from others. And yet, to express our love for each other during this global pandemic, we must reduce the chances of spreading a disease that can kill the more vulnerable among us. To do less than that, would be selfish.
It’s a poignant moment for me, given my past. And I am also aware that my strange childhood has given me some valuable perspectives on what we are all dealing with now.
For instance, I know what a trap fear can be if it isn’t tempered with love. Fear is a normal emotion designed to sound the alarm, so we will take steps to avoid or reduce harm to ourselves. But love asks us to protect others as well as ourselves.
What that looks like for each of us will vary. Some of us will be more cautious than others. Some of us are more vulnerable than others.
But as we pay attention to the scientific data as it becomes available, and to the recommended protocols as they are updated, how do we keep from acquiescing to fear? How do we stay grounded in love?
I am still learning what that looks like for me. And I know this: love is the opposite of fear. It IS possible to take precautions with an open heart ready to receive and give love.
The global pandemic is showing us how connected we ALL are. I believe that is the most important takeaway. What happens to people anywhere on this planet, can and often does impact ALL of us because we are increasingly one people.
The borders on our maps do not constrain the spread of viruses anymore than they prevent the exchange of ideas. If we are able to more fully grasp just how connected we all are, will we begin to make decisions with the wellbeing of ALL of us forefront in our hearts and minds? Or will we continue to cling to outdated tribalism and fear of those who don’t look or worship like we do? Can we let go of our fear long enough to see the value in all lives?
We have seen a disturbing shift to populist politics in many nations in recent years. Those governments who have adopted exclusionary and isolationist tactics, remind me of my dad. Hatred of the other is also a virus. Hatred and fear are also contagious. Will COVID-19 move us away from that selfish stance into something more sourced in love for all the life that shares our small planet?
The current thinking is that this virus was birthed in the markets that sell the flesh of the most trafficked non-human animal in the world — the pangolin. Thanks to the greed of humans, this animal is endangered, and despite laws to protect it, the destruction of this species continues. While we don’t yet know for certain if COVID-19 originated from the flesh of pangolins, we do know that the virus came from the flesh of wild animals.
For me, this highlights the perils of continuing to ignore our connections to all life on this planet.
While it may be that our karma has come home to us, I hope we can use this moment to expand our sense of connection rather than minimize it.
How can we accomplish that when we are called upon to engage in “social distancing?”
By refusing to indulge the false comfort of denial and having the courage to acquaint ourselves with the facts. By respecting the choices of others rather than shaming them. By asserting our own choices while keeping our hearts open. By taking it one day at a time, doing the best we can and letting go of our fear and our expectations.
We can help each other with healthy boundaries and open hearts. We don’t have to acquiesce to fear. We don’t have to take unnecessary risks. And we don’t have to hide our heads in the sand.
We CAN expand our hearts, deepen our connections and live into more LOVE while we give each other the recommended 6 feet of separation, wash our hands often and stay home whenever possible. This is our call to love with healthy boundaries.
We can use this moment to shift our consciousness to one that is global and connected. We can choose to see how our actions affect EVERY other life form on our precious and increasingly small planet. We can expand our definition of love to include all sentient beings.
And we can choose to make wise decisions sourced in love for ourselves and love for others.
This is a moment in human history when we can increase the love while practicing social distancing by amplifying our heart connections. We can do that even while we temporarily stay a safe distance away from each other and wash our hands frequently.
May we all focus on the love in our hearts as we navigate this global pandemic. And may tomorrow find our hearts more connected than ever before.