Messages of hope on neighborhood sidewalks
The fear of hunger has driven many to stock up food supplies and, in the worst cases, to hoard. That hunger for food will most likely be satisfied one way or another. Some may die after contracting COVID-19, but no one is going to starve to death.
There is another kind of hunger developing—one that cannot be countered by stocking up. It is the hunger for human companionship. The press of flesh, if only a handshake and a hug. This is a hunger that drives people to ignore warnings, at their peril and others, and congregate on beaches and in bars. For the majority of us who are acting responsibly and staying at home, the hunger is setting in and will run deep, and is a reminder of how much we depend on each other in ways small and large.
Last week, I received at text from my daughter in San Diego, a wife and a mother of a 3 year old boy. She texted that as she walked around her block she and her son saw some people across the street on the other sidewalk. As they passed, her little boy said, "social distancing," in his sweet, sing-song voice. My daughter said it made her want to cry. Even more heartrending, her son lamented that recently his aunt and uncle, who live a block away, didn't want to touch him the last time they saw him. When we hear this, we all want to cry.
My wife and I recently returned to our suburban home on our usually quiet street at the end of our daily dog walk to find many of our neighbors standing in the street, at a social distance, having a pleasant impromptu get-together. The mood was upbeat, despite the downbeat circumstances, and as I watched the adults chatter, the kids draw chalk lines on the concrete driveway and the dogs mill about, I was struck by the tangible exhibition of hunger that we are all experiencing for human interaction. We have all known each other for years and occasionally wave a quick hello from an open car window, but this gathering was something new and I couldn't help but join in and find a reassuring sense of calm in the simple act of a face-to-face conversation.
It's hard to find anything positive to hang on to as we move helplessly into a frightening and surreal world, where routines are shattered and no one, not even the best authorities, can tell us with certainty how this will end, but maybe I stumbled on to one good thought. Our prior daily lives have been so over-programmed and sped-up for so long that we have forgotten some old and beneficial habits. A call to an old friend to ask if he or she is well, a book on the night stand we've been meaning to read or, as in my case, a friendly meeting with a neighbor to share our life experiences, to tell a joke, to wish each other well. It would be nice if when we return to some sense of normal, we can remember that we all have a hunger greater than the pang for food, and make the effort to feed that hunger with greater outreach and kindness to neighbors, friends and strangers.
We are truly, each day, whether good or bad, all in this together.
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