Connection in a time of distancing

May 1, 2020 - 12:00am -- Chiara Catipon

Connection in a time of distancing
How Covid-19 changes our way of seeing ourselves and the world

By Chiara Catipon

In a recent Zoom call with young adults, one man asked a question that had been looming in all our hearts: what sort of person will I become after all of this? When one day, hopefully, the pandemic will be contained, what will we have learned from it all, as individuals and as a society?

Perhaps in no other moment in recent history has humanity been so clearly faced with a truth it has always instinctively, but in some parts stubbornly, refused to acknowledge: we are all interconnected.

While the issue of migration influx was being staved off at the border, and trees cut in the distant Amazon, the average citizen might not have felt compelled to make lifestyle changes and take collective action. Events outside of our country remained, well, just that: outside of us. For the most part, we were fine and focused on needs at home, making plans for things to do and places to go.

All that toppled like a house of cards when Covid-19 reached our shores. This tiny virus has debunked our certainty of disaster preparedness, as the world watched agape at the avalanche of sickness and death that it has brought along its path.

It does not discriminate. Actors, athletes, infants, the elderly, powerful political figures, a spouse, brother, classmate, colleague, all tested positive — suddenly we found ourselves in the same boat.

Today New York streets eerily wallow in silence, shadows inhabit empty churches, and terms such as “social distancing” and “CDC” have entered each home. Zoom use has skyrocketed, and facemasks have become prized commodities. Educators are scrambling to find the most effective online teaching method, as remote learning has become the norm. State leaders, meanwhile, are working to share resources in the struggle to meet various urgent needs.

Yes, much has changed, and not only externally. The pandemic has also forced us to face our vulnerability as human beings. It drives us to question what is truly essential and what is not. It makes us ask existential questions we were previously too busy to formulate: the eventuality of death and the meaning of our life today.

When a loved one is diagnosed with the virus, we suddenly wonder: “Why her? Why now? Why couldn’t we stop it from happening? What’s the point of all this?”

With staggering numbers of infected individuals and makeshift hospitals popping up in major cities, the human toll is hard to fathom. Each number represents a human life. Breaking news touches us now more deeply than ever, because of the virus’s proximity, unprecedented proportions and the fact that any one of us could be next in line.

As we try to find normalcy in our daily lives, we are faced with the challenge of engaging with others in a new way. While social responsibility calls us to respect physical distance, our human need for connection drives us to find creative ways to connect: whether by meeting online, across balconies, at drive-by birthday parties or in televised collective prayer. Even the concept of staying at home to contain the virus is raising our awareness that each person’s choice of action carries an immediate social consequence.

Not only civic practices are changing. Since we can no longer go to church, we must now learn how to be the Church. Without diminishing the importance of the Eucharist for the Catholics among us, we are experiencing how the sacred is also present wherever “two or more are united” in his name, wherever a faint voice of a prayer is heard, wherever suffering is turned into love, wherever people reach out beyond their human inclinations.

A doctor in Italy recently shared a moving account of how he has learned to bless his dying patients, a final farewell on behalf of the family. Above and beyond any act of blessing, his vocation as a layperson who gives his all for each patient renders the hospital holy ground.

In a Zoom meeting with his faith companions, a young refugee from Syria (now resettled in Calgary), shared how this fight against the virus feels different and yet the same as the war he had left behind. After losing his job, his focus shifted to helping the elderly around him get the groceries they need, with the aid of his friends.

Just as any crisis can bring out the best and worst in us, so has this pandemic the potential to spread a new culture, that of universal brotherhood. And this is what Italian economist Luigino Bruni wishes for when he says: “What comes next will also depend on what we do now, that is, what we think, the ideas we have. Let others hear us; this way we ‘make culture,’ we create an opinion, because people are now listening much more than they did before the crisis.”

Coming back to the young man’s question on our video call, we can only hope that by seizing daily opportunities to demonstrate care for our human family, we can emerge from this experience humbler, wiser and more our true selves.

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