The Social Side of our Distancing

As a species, humans are designed to love each other. Much of that love doesn’t transmit the same way from six feet apart, and the world is devastated. We’ve all grown morbidly obsessed with the coronavirus, in part because watching it ravage our people and health care systems feels like watching the world burn. But at a time of heightened awareness, it’s equally important to consider what we’re capable of when the spotlight’s averted. 

As college students, we are trained to not just look, but to see. We’re trained to analyze, we’re trained to question. And everyone has the same ones in mind: How do we move on? What happens next? 

We’re young. We’re bright. We’re curious. We want to help but we don’t know how because our hearts are broken. We recognize the tragedies happening around the world, but at the same time, it’s not selfish or naive to mourn time lost during such a formative period in our lives. Our lives are so rapid-fire that we grow restless and confused when compelled to put them on indefinite hold. We individually grieve in our timeless bubbles clutching coffee cups brimming with Merlot, and only escape our homes—fearful and masked—to buy groceries.

But while the flow of life is halted and we do our parts to flatten the curve, social distancing is having an astonishing unintended impact on our world. The polluted waters of the Venice canals have cleared up enough to see fish beneath the surface, and dolphins have returned to swim around the southern Italy island of Sardinia. In China, three months of lockdown have cut carbon emissions so dramatically that blue skies drape across its major manufacturing cities. In India, air quality has skyrocketed and the smog has lifted enough to reveal the Himalayan mountaintops for the first time in 30 years. And, despite being the epicenter of trauma in the United States, New York City is running out of dogs and cats to foster.

We’ve never come together more beautifully as a people than we have during this crisis, and our collective lullaby is nothing short of a war cry. We will not let go. Virtual events like the One World: Together At Home concert by Global Citizen on April 18th brought hundreds of artists from all over the world in a tribute to unity and our health care workers. The celebration of our holidays, like Easter and Passover, persists in the age of Zoom. Friends make birthday wishes and eat pizza together behind the windows of separate cars. Major retailers silently shift production over to ventilators and protective equipment. Driveways, sidewalks, and windows are generously covered in homemade craft rainbows to honor those who don’t have the luxury of staying home. And as we cheer for our frontliners at 7 PM, we remember that though they’ve been thrust into the limelight by this pandemic, they put their lives on the line each and every day—regardless of whether Covid-19 is present.

For the first time, as the roar of global traffic slows to a hum and our bedrooms morph into the first floor of Bapst, we’ve been given the unique opportunity to strip away the tightly-woven fabric of our lives. We are forced to confront questions head-on with brutal honesty: from where we seek comfort and happiness, and how to create little happies from scratch. Maybe happy is baked into a loaf of banana bread or spooned onto a glass of whipped coffee. Now, more than ever, it’s the little things that will save us. Embrace them.

So, what does this mean for our future? I don’t know. No one does. 

The good news, though, is that we never have; we’ve operated our entire lives lacking insight towards the future. But I urge you to remember that once the traffic restarts, we will have the chance to grasp the silver lining from our Covid-19 storm cloud and run a marathon. We will have the capacity to make conscious choices that keep those dolphins near the coast of Italy, that maintain blue skies in China, in India, in the United States.

Humans are a dramatic species. Everything feels like the end of the world but so far, nothing has been. Much more importantly, we’re powerful in our resilience and adaptability. If this pandemic has taught our society anything, it’s that our world is so intricately connected that what affects some of us directly affects all of us. As our country gradually begins to reopen, we need to be as careful as ever in order to preserve an incredibly delicate ballet of survival—not just for ourselves, but for those around us. We will bang our pans, cling to our happies, sing our war cries.

And we will get through this.

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