Why This Shabbat We Need To Work On Emotional Closeness

I have been trying really hard not to talk or write about the current state of the world. I have been trying to keep our lives and the lives of our children as normal as possible, and to some, this appears as me ignoring all warnings and not placing weight on the severity of the situation. Even coming up with a name for this post has been a week-long process, mainly because I have come to a place where my brain goes on immediate defense mode and would much rather quarantine itself away from all of the fear and uncertainty around us.

And I am talking past the physical repercussions of COVID-19, or the emotional stress that comes with a pandemic. I am talking about how it is bringing out the worst in us as human beings.

(Funny enough, just the other day I finished writing a whole blog post about sex, and even that felt slightly more comfortable than writing about this.)

We all know the practical purpose of social distancing. Keep yourself six feet away from others, avoid physical touch, stay away from crowded spaces. Now, for someone like me, who very much enjoys solitude and personal space, this may appear as just another day in the life. However, us sensitive people are also humans, and even when we may not need that handshake, or that hug, we still crave it in times of struggle. And for others, not being able to comfort friends, or being around loved ones, feels like a punishment. Social distancing is by default saving the world while breaking us slowly, all at the same time.

But that is not the worst part.

As a mother, I have to make decisions of what I feel is the best option for our family. With that, however, has come immeasurable judgment. I choose to send both of my children to their respective schools, because I trust their leadership’s judgment to always look for their safety above all things (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t choose those establishments for my children to begin with). I choose to continue going to the supermarket when needed, even if what you don’t see is the fifteen times I have washed my hands, or the perfectly planned route that I will be taking just to make the visit as quick and concise as possible. I choose to keep my children in whatever extracurricular activities from their routine that are still available because, above all things, while our adult world is being disrupted, I don’t want them to struggle with the same doomsday feeling I get every morning, or that uncertainty that plagues me every night before bed.

The choices I am making are not stemming from lack of responsibility or awareness, they are based solely on the fact that it is on my to keep my children’s life as normal as possible, as the safety of others is not their burden to carry alone. Our children don’t understand the purpose of social distancing like we do, no matter how much we explain it. To them, it means they don’t get to hang out with their friends, they don’t get to participate in the Purim service they rehearsed so much for, that their Spring concert at school they were looking forward to so much is getting canceled, that they don’t get to see their favorite teacher and play in their favorite spot in the playground. To our children, the world starts to feel like it is falling apart, and it is our job to prevent that from happening.

And all while attempting to protect my children to the best of my ability, the rest of the world engages in social media campaigns about who is to blame and what everyone else is doing wrong, and how people like me don’t care about the safety of others.

The fact is, I understand the panic. I see it and feel it. I don’t disregard it. I share the fears and I will do everything in my power to “flatten the curve”. However, what this panic is accomplishing is to turn social distancing in more than just six feet apart from each other and some extra hand sanitizer and lack of sports events. What it is causing is tension and stress in previously strong relationships. Its perpetuating judgment and blame stemming out of fear and uncertainty. It is fueling hateful political discourse, which trickles down to social disruption. It is causing us to start a “who is to blame for what” fight.

Having to stay away from those we love in times of crisis is hard enough. We cannot let social distancing turn into social breaking. Many will disagree with me, but now is not the time to engage in political debate online or with that family member or friend who voted for the other candidate, or who disagrees with you on who is to blame (or if there is even someone to blame) for the current state of affairs. Now is the time to make sure that social distancing doesn’t turn into more than just physical space between two people. Because that’s all it should be; just six feet apart within a physical space.

As Shabbat approaches (or, if you are not Jewish, the much needed weekend), I encourage you to find a way to keep your heart from distancing itself from your neighbor. Spend time reconnecting emotionally with others, without judgment. Try to respect their fears and understand their actions. Find a way to keep physical distance while strengthening emotional closeness. Try not to let fear win.


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