Staying six feet apart from friends and relatives has given a whole new meaning to the term “six degrees of separation,” popularized in connection with actor Kevin Bacon. It suggested that any actor could be connected with Bacon in a maximum of six handshakes with a friend of a friend.
Now, the Internet and Covid-19 prove that we are all connected. We are only a breath away from one another.
There are many things we gave up during what I think of as our Back to Walden Pond days. Our ability to travel was one of them. Once again, our quest for an extensive road trip was stymied.
Everything I love about my community ended. There were no café visits with friends, no Choir practice or local theatre productions, concerts or music festivals. Even our local parks were closed to us for a couple of months.
For many of us, it felt like we were living in suspended animation. We were frozen in time.
And then, I transitioned into revisiting the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, whose book, Walden, is an ode to solitude, contemplation, and nature.
Thoreau wrote Walden as a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings. He expressed the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle when we eliminate aspirations of luxury and the quest for the American Dream.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Whether you have read his book or not, many of us followed his example as we simplified our own lives.
Many of us went kicking and screaming into our un-voluntary simplicity before we settled into domesticity. Everyone I know is baking more often – sourdough bread-making is a big hit these days.
We have planted a vegetable garden for the first time in 10 years, and many of my neighbors have done the same. Our Farmer’s Market has gone online, and we seek out more local products.
We have more time to be more thoughtful about everything, including our shopping lists.
Wearing a mask has turned from a requirement to an artistic statement as local artists are now designing them. Initially, we hated being told to wear a mask, but now we accept them as a sign that we care about the health of others.
In fact, we are contemplating wearing a mask during future cold and flu seasons as a way to control the spread of viruses as is a common practice in other countries.
When the cars abandoned the roads, the planes deserted the skies, and the cruise ships ceased sailing, we saw plants and animals thought to be extinct return. And when the smog cleared, we had clearer vision and the ability to breathe more deeply.
We began to reflect on our connection with nature and went deeper into communion with the natural world.
With the busyness of the modern world reduced, my neighbors and I noticed more. We started watching the birds more closely and saw that the deer were less timid. Plants were thriving and nature was in full bloom around us. We really noticed it this past spring – as if for the first time.
We are finding pleasure in the little things – bird song, frogs croaking, harvesting edible wild plants, watching the deer at play and the turkeys fanning out their feathers as they strut around in their red, high-heeled shoes.
Like many others, we have been on Zoom. It is lovely to see the smiling faces of Choir members – even though singing online is less uplifting. I’m part of a weekly group that meets online to share music and readings to lift our spirit.
I have two chairs on my front deck that are spaced just over six feet apart. It’s a space for conversation with a friend who drops over for a chat.
Each night at 7:00 PM, we join many others who step outside and play a musical instrument, drum or bang on pots and pans to express our appreciation for our front line workers who have toiled to keep us safe these many weeks we’ve been in isolation.
The dichotomy of six degrees of separation is that the virus is bringing us together by showing us how we are all connected – even while separated. I don’t need to explain forced isolation, mask-wearing, or hug depravation to you. You already understand.
When I tell you I’ve been in self-isolation for months, I’ve been obsessively hand-washing, and staying six feet away from friends and strangers – you don’t give me a quizzical look. You need no further explanation.
We were more separated before – when we were each going buzzing about in our own separate ways. The virus is proof of how connected we really are. What happens to one can impact another. The virus does not respect any borders.
On an intellectual level, I’ve always understood the notion that when a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it can contribute to a tiny change in the atmosphere that could alter the path of a tornado somewhere else. The virus has made me feel this effect.
It has caused us to slow down and go inward. We are looking closely at our values and ethics and learning to separate our wants from our needs. We are beginning to recognize our inter-dependence with each other and the natural world.
We are not separate. We are all connected.
The world is going through the same experience we are. We realize the old ways haven’t worked for many of us and that we need to create a new world that works for everyone.
Soon, we will pack our camper and head out for a couple of days in a National Park to enjoy a staycation close to home. We look forward to a change of scenery, gazing at the ocean and the Milky Way while we ponder our place in the world.
Our friends will have the campsite next to us. It will be good to connect with them in person once again. I hope you get to do the same.
In your opinion, what has been the relational impact of our time in isolation? Do you think the pandemic separated us or connected us more deeply? What further thoughts can you add? Please join the conversation.