Social Distancing and Reaching Out
A few weeks ago, I woke up to the news that an eighteen-year-old in my extended family had taken his own life. Reeling from this shocking, disturbing information, I was forced to shift my inward focus outward. I wondered if the reasons for one to take such a drastic step could simply be condensed to a fear of exams or an inability to bear rejection in a romantic relationship. Perhaps it runs deeper, I thought, to those emotions that may not always make their way to overt expression. Deep-seated feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and unworthiness, even when expressed, are frequently ignored, discounted or brushed aside because many either fail to identify them or are unsure of how to help—and then it suddenly struck me that I fit neither category. I am all too often simply ignorant of the experiences of other people because I prefer to be secluded.
Much to the horror of extroverts, strict orders to isolate and to maintain social distance came as welcome news to me. On the rare occasions when I found myself in the outside world, I felt less intimidated because with everyone donning masks, it was far easier to “miss” recognising a familiar face at the grocery store or get away with a rushed hello. That I no longer had to pull through endless, socially awkward public gatherings was a relief. Zoom, with its wonderful options to disable one’s video and audio, made it possible to muster enough courage to attend large meetings. I found this strange season unchallenging, enjoying time away from people during the lockdown, but after learning about the boy’s unfortunate death, I gradually became aware that there were various battles and needs people around me faced. I began to recognise the importance of reaching out to people even while guarding my personal space because God was meeting my own needs through others.
Amidst certain recent circumstances, I realised that although isolation may seem fascinating or liberating, there is a need for meaningful relationships and interdependence. When my mother recently underwent a major surgery, I was able to see how families draw together in times of need. Even those who were wading through their own difficult crises offered to stay a night at the hospital, and those who could not be present sent baskets of fruits. I noticed within me that the strong focus on self had briefly taken a backseat; I did not desire to be alone then. I understand that concern for family is stirred naturally, but after becoming rather comfortable with a withdrawn life, I saw the value of relationships and the comfort of being able to depend on others, especially when we are most vulnerable.
This realisation became more pronounced last week as my husband and I were in the midst of moving to another house. Being a virtual recluse might feel ideal, but I certainly cannot imagine shifting furniture and other belongings alone. Thankfully, we could gather some help to move our things. When all our kitchen items were still in boxes some days ago, we decided to make do with something simple like cereal for lunch. But to our surprise, one of our new neighbours brought us a bag of food. I was thrilled because I longed for a homecooked meal after two days of packing, unpacking, and organising with the kitchen still unready. I felt that God was not only reminding me of his care and provision he was also showing me the need for community. I realise that being on the receiving end of such a kind, thoughtful gesture would not be possible if everyone chose to live a solitary life.
In light of these recent events, I have been prompted to reflect more deeply on relationships, especially in a world where being physically present for/with others is restricted, and detachment is the norm. I do not have everything figured out yet, but I have come to perceive more clearly and acknowledge (to myself) that even though reaching out to others or engaging in meaningful communication may be dreadfully uncomfortable and exhausting for me, life is impossible without other people. Indeed, even in this season marked by social distancing, we often encounter situations where we need others to get by. Could it be that as we reach out to others to help, and be helped, we perhaps display a glimpse of our loving, relational God whose being comprises a community of three persons, and in whose image we were all created?