What We Can Give to One Another

Over the past year, so many aspects of our daily lives have significantly changed. Interpersonal interaction has been one of the most pronounced alterations. Many of us have greatly reduced our social circles. We spend less time with one another, and often the time that we do spend is less personal than it was a year ago. The world we now live in is one of fewer handshakes, hugs and kisses, and more masked yawns and inching away from people we don’t know. We still want to be close to one another, and so in the face of great change we may find ourselves in the process of redefining closeness.

Elbow tap Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

This is one of the challenges we now face: to connect with one another while still protecting each other. I have long felt anxious when it comes to social interactions, but now a new element of genuine fear has been introduced. It is not the same as that familiar anxiety, because with the fear there is a sense of responsibility and duty. This concern, this protection—it is something we owe one another.

I think of what it means to be a loving individual when human contact has been severely altered. How do we care for one another from a distance? More and more, I have come to value small daily interactions. It can be tiring, yes, but these days few things bring me more genuine joy than talking to customers at the bakery where I work. When I ring people up, I make an effort to ask how they are doing and what their plans are for the day. I think there is something simple and beautiful about these interactions. During a time when many of us are more physically isolated than we have ever been before, questions matter. Listening matters. Sharing matters. Even if it's just “How are you?” most people are happy to be asked and happy to answer. We are separate from one another in so many ways, and often we are just hoping that someone will break down those barriers or give us the chance to do so ourselves.

Cafe Bagle Coffee Laptop Michele Hu / Spoon

It seems small on the surface, but I feel that there is something personal and—dare I say—intimate, about learning someone’s regular bread order at the bakery and remembering what kind of coffee they like best. It blurs the line between stranger and friend. These are people whom, for the most part, I know very little about, yet I see them multiple times each week and I do know what they like to eat and drink. Those little things are part of knowing a person. They build up over time. A name, a job, a bread order, a coffee preference, an accent, a pair of glasses, a “hello” or a “hey”, a masked smile… These are small, but I think perhaps that they create the person. Learn enough, care enough, and there’s a connection to be made.

Protecting each other is one of the most important things that we can strive to do during this (and perhaps every) time in history. This means wearing masks, maintaining distance, keeping our social circles small, and paying attention to our health. However, I think it also means bestowing kindness and devoting care to our interactions with the people around us. For those of us that work in customer service, we can strive to develop connections with the people we serve. For those of us in school, we can express engagement and ask thoughtful questions of our classmates and teachers (even over Zoom). For those of us living in cities and towns, when we pass people on the street, we can keep a safe distance while still waving hello and offering a masked smile. And for those of us staying at home as much as possible, we can still reach out to friends and family for a text, a call, or a letter every once in a while. If you’re like me, complete social isolation may feel a little bit too tempting. After all, social interaction can be exhausting and stressful—but it can also be meaningful. There is merit and meaning in checking in on each other.

So much now is now out of our control, but what we do have is this: the ability to care for one another, to be kind, to protect.

Four people holding each other in shades of purple Photo by Vonecia Carswell from Unsplash