Social Distancing Revised

There is something strangely familiar with life these days with only a week into this mandated period of containment.  It is as though the world I lived in as a child in a small secluded northern town has merged with the world I have been living as an adult in the hyper-busyness of a large metropolitan city.  Perhaps that is what influences my view in light of this COVID-19 global pandemic when it comes to social distancing.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I grew up in a small town in northern Canada.  We were surrounded by relatives and those who did not live there visited often.  School was a ten minute walk in either direction and the candy store was even closer.  

There were speed limit signs but no one obeyed them.  People drove much slower as they looked for someone to wave at or pull over to chat with.  We drove uptown, not downtown. Main Street was the place to be on Saturday as the street was full of people hanging out while others ran errands.  

It was a lively community where everyone knew of everyone, doors were rarely locked and friends, relatives, neighbors would drop by anytime for a visit.  

City life

Quite the opposite of city-life where we are surrounded by neighbors who seem nice enough but are strangers nonetheless as they live their life constantly on the go.  Relatives and friends are scattered in every area of the city and it’s a rare occasion for someone to drop by for a visit simply because they were in the neighborhood.  

The city is a place where people are everywhere, endless waves of nameless faces, if eye contact is made be certain it will not be returned with a smile but rather a glare that shouts, “mind your own business”.  There is a prevailing mindset that if you are not busy going here and there you will be left behind. If you’re not striving, you’re dying. Always needing to be doing something, anything but nothing.

Speed limit signs are also not obeyed for people are in too much of a hurry to notice anything or anyone else enroute, so get out of the way lest you risk flaring up the beast called “Road Rage” where your worst fear is being followed home by this lunatic.

It’s obvious I prefer the pace and style of a small town to the hustle and bustle of the big city, yet this is where I call home now.  If any sadness lingers in my soul it is the absence of being known, really known, where you look out for those around you and they look out for you.  

Hope showed up today

That was until today.  Hope showed up today that this mindset could be shifting in the midst of being instructed on social distancing.

My family took our dog for a walk on this beautiful mild spring day and was pleasantly surprised by the life we saw.  It was like I remembered as a child…except it was here…in the city. Could this be happening? Dad’s out riding bikes with their kids.  New mom’s pushing their little one’s in a stroller. Guys being social on the driveway while others were walking their dogs. Everyone we walked by offered a passing “hello”.  Eye contract was being made with a smile! You would have never guessed that life has been restricted. 

Urban city living is not the ghost town I had expected and anticipated from reading a variety of social media posts during this time.  Not at all! The grocery store is one thing, but the streets strike a different flavor. Life is being lived, as it should be. This is where these two worlds merge.  Being aware of your neighbors. Seeing people! Being seen by people.  

Yes, we need to keep a space between us which is, in my opinion, erroneously referred to as “social distancing”.  Perhaps this term needs revision for there is a distinct difference between “social” and “physical”.  

Social distancing implies we are endangering our lives by engaging in conversation with people, that we are best to stay indoors, keeping our social interaction online and over the phone but not in person.

We are wired for social connection

The problem is we are wired for social connection and such restrictions are damaging to both our mental and physical health.  We need to be outside, we need to interact, to be around each other. We need to walk the dog!

This is where we find different ways of socializing while maintaining the proper physical distance.  Go for a walk with your family, with a friend. Enjoy the great outdoors, the fresh air, to feel the heat from the sun on your face.  Bring a drink to a friend and visit on the driveway, enjoy company on the front steps. All such interactions release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which are chemical responses that occur in the brain that increases our ability to navigate life with more clarity and success while detoxing the damaging effects from stress.  

The small town teaches us how to be social while the big city teaches us physical distance.  If I can offer anything worthwhile during this period of global crisis, let it be this, remain physically distant and socially connected.