Most of us have never spent any time thinking about the agreed cultural distance in formal and informal settings. Sociologists can tell us within centimetres what it is in Sweden and what it is in Albania. The social distance is different in each country.
But suddenly things have changed. By order of the governments of European Nations, the accepted and required distance we should keep is 1.5-2 metres. If you belong to a high-risk group, you are even more limited. For you, the front door of your home marks your territory as you should not even leave your house. The result is that most of us are limited to waving at people from the balcony or connecting electronically.
We have all been forced into “social distancing” and distant socialising. We no longer have the option of kissing, hugging, shaking hands or something else to show our affection and greetings. And we have yet to find a substitute way to express closeness even with the ones who have been close to us not so long ago.
The various platforms that allow us to connect electronically have exploded. These platforms have largely replaced meeting physically. For example; after the livestream church service, we meet for online coffee in smaller groups. Or, instead of making a quiet comment to the person sitting next to us in a meeting we send a private message during the call. Our informal agreements over a cup of coffee during a break have been replaced with other options or none.
Meeting and eating
By now you have probably also noticed how much eating plays a key role in church and other social gatherings. Just consider the importance of the Lord’s Supper; community lunches, small group meetings which normally begin with a meal! All of this has gone and with it a lot more.
How can we make up for it? What is there to replace it? Can it be replaced?
Connecting personally is more than just talking with one other. We communicate with our whole being and now we just see a face on a computer screen. We cannot even read the body language. And if we talk to people, they might wear a mask which again cuts off a lot of signals we are used to read consciously and unconsciously. Have you found ways to substitute this?
In early church times it was the Christians who were known to sit with those who were ill and thereby doing so many of the ill did not feel so lonely and were helped in their recovery. And yes, the ones who had been lonely before the Covid-19 crisis are even more lonely now. How can we connect?
Change and recovery is needed
Everything that was mentioned points us to needed change in order to discover or invent new rituals, habits and ways of behaviour that show affection, closeness and intimacy despite the distant socialising.
Above all, we should watch and pray to determine if we need to challenge certain official measures. We need to question what we have gained by physical distancing if it produces even more casualties than the virus itself. People are becoming more and more depressed and become ill and some even die. Not everything has been good. Some decisions were made hastily in order to preserve our lives and for the common good. What remains to be seen is “how good has it been?” We need to make sure it does not backfire on us.
In ending this …
… editorial I realise that it is even more challenging to convey closeness in writing. Maybe I should contemplate if a video clip would be more appropriate. There I could even do what I do with friends these days. I show a hug from the proper physical distance.
May God give you a vivid imagination to show closeness and love and may you have the courage to explore new ways and possibly reclaim old ones