From: Jenny Kuderer
In this strange time of pandemic living, the two-word epigraph to E.M. Forester’s 1910 novel, “Howard’s End,” has become to me even more haunting: “Only connect ...” This last year of social distancing and mask-wearing and Zoom calls has changed how we connect with one another. The tactile warmth that serves as such a critical bonding agent in the connections of friends and extended family had to be put on hold as we tried with fierce love and stoic determination to keep all those within our relational circles safe from a possibly life-ending bout against the coronavirus. Such resolve saw doctors and nurses separate their living spaces from family members. Loved ones of nursing home residents stood outside, even in frigid weather conditions, to try to support their dear one through panes of glass. Extended family meals were suspended, and close friends canceled dinner parties and coffee dates. The epigraph to a nation’s public health story became, “Please don’t connect in person right now. The risk is grave.”
As genuine hope in the form of increased vaccination rates and lower transmission rates in a few starts to slowly emerge, the news clips of grandparents hugging grandchildren in such a tender moment after both have been fully vaccinated brings a misty glaze to the eyes. My own grandmother at 92 has received the first dose of the vaccine and is scheduled for the second. While I continued to visit her during the pandemic surge, which was arguably a serious risk to take, there was more of a physical distance. In that first visit after the pandemic declaration, she said softly to me before I left, “Well, maybe next time you visit, this will all be over and we can have a hug.” Little did anyone know then that a year later, the pandemic would still be claiming too many lives nationally and globally and that those warm hugs from my beloved grandmother would be so delayed.
Now, as my focus happily turns toward all the formerly-taken-for-granted freedoms that will be available to me once I’ve been vaccinated and herd immunity has been achieved, I know that I have been utterly moved and truly transformed by this journey of increased social distance to preserve the health of all. I never want my heart to forget to drink in the simple joy of being physically in another’s presence with the freedom to hug or hold a hand without fear that a deadly virus might be lurking in that space and be unknowingly transmitted. What a joy to see a dear friend’s eyes light up in wide-open welcome followed by a warm hug where the cares of the day dissolve and peace envelops me. There is no substitute for physical affection, for the bond that allows us to be close to another for a moment in trust and kindness, in celebration that we are not strangers but have found a certain kinship or are simply kin. This face-to-face, rather than FaceTime connection with its worth beyond all measure is one I plan to savor within my circles of dear ones in the newly dawning post-COVID world of social interaction every chance I have.