Our lives have been turned upside down. A virus has found a way to jeopardize the very fabric of what we hold dear. Our economy may suffer impacts more like the Great Depression of the 1930’s than the Great Recession of 2008. The labor force is bleeding jobs at an untenable pace. Hospitals around the world lack the proper equipment to handle the dramatically increasing numbers of very sick patients, while our medical professionals save lives without the protective equipment necessary to properly shield them from the disease. Long lines outside markets await customers looking to stock up only to find many of the shelves bare of essential needs. Students struggle to stay engaged and make academic progress in a valiant, yet largely make-shift attempt to keep learning progressing as the equity gap unfortunately widens. Our places of worship--usually a space of solace during times of uncertainty and despair--sit empty. All this while many politicians struggle to prioritize what is best for the people they serve over their own personal ambition and ego.
Though we long for accurate information about the ever-changing crisis, it’s hard to turn to the news knowing that the stories and images will further dysregulate our already erratic emotions. However, what you're not likely to find on the news are stories about the most perverse of all the impacts of this virus.
The cruel irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that at the time when we need one another most, being with one another, hugging, consoling, listening intently, caressing someone’s hand are exactly what could kill us.
Others may disagree, but I am of the firm belief that the loss of relationship during this time is more problematic than any economic, medical, or logistical consequence. I’m not proposing that we should be doing anything different; sheltering in place and physical distancing are essential. However, as I look at all the impacts, the one that concerns me the most is the relational consequences of this virus.
Humans are by nature social beings. We are built for relationship. It is precisely when our routines and expectations are disrupted--either for celebratory or traumatic reasons--that we are most in need of the relational structures that we have built.
As Sheltering in Place drags on, I find myself longing for connection--a connection that a video chat just simply can’t fill. I hear from parents that their teens are so desperate for connection with their friends that they are meeting in their individual cars in parking lots with the windows rolled down just to have some time with their buddies. I cross paths with so many folks walking the streets of our neighborhoods who smile longingly as they pass me ten feet away, seeking that sense of knowing and being known.
It’s not just that our economy may be going to s#$%, or that our kids are driving us crazy at home, or that we are afraid to face our own mortality. It’s all of that, and… It’s all of that and the fact that as we struggle through all of this, the thing we long for most is a hug from our best friend. A good cry with our mom. A beer with our mentor. A bitch-session with our trusted colleague from work. A deep convo with our book club.
I write all this knowing that there is no good solution right now. But, I also write this for what we should do when all of this is over. I hope that if we learn anything from this experience, it’s that we need one another. In the busyness of life without a virus to remind us, it’s easy to forget how important our relationships are. I don’t know what a post-virus world looks like; I imagine it will look different, and it should. You can’t go through this experience as a global community and come out of it unchanged. What I do know, though, is that we have to love more, hug more, care more, talk more, listen more, forgive more, and slow down life enough to ensure that we don’t leave relationships behind in the race to tomorrow.
Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.