With my wife and me both having compromised immunities, we have played it safe during the pandemic. In addition to receiving shots and both boosters, we still carry masks with us for situations that seem problematic.
The pandemic has reminded me of something my elders said when I was young: “You can get used to anything.” And I suppose my wife and I have gotten used to social distancing and less traveling.
But I had an experience several weeks ago that reminded me of the emotional cost of these years of increased isolation. After teaching two courses this spring in person and safely, I was on campus to tie up some loose ends of the semester. That is when I ran into three colleagues with whom I hadn’t spoken for over two years.
Before the pandemic, I wouldn’t have given much thought to those encounters, but later on the day of our meeting, I realized that I felt buoyant and full not just of energy but of joy. Our conversations weren’t lengthy and they were light, not heavy, but “light” is exactly what I felt breaking in when talking with them.
A term that has emerged over the past decade is “micro-aggression.” Micro-aggression describes something irritating or frustrating that can occur somewhat regularly but is considered by some to be minor. I have my doubts about the concept of micro-aggression. I don’t believe any act of aggression is considered minor by the person on the receiving end.
But from my encounters with my three friends, I am convinced that “micro-connections” do exist and are an essential source of our well-being. Below the words that my friends and I exchanged that afternoon was the deeper message of “I’m glad we connected today. It’s been far too long.”
A simple but profound truth is that we are created for community. Put another way, the emotional healing we need most often comes not from ourselves or from sites on the internet, but from others in our lives.
We have all witnessed the cost of lives lost because some in our country do not have this sense of community. I am all for removing the ease of buying weapons by those we call “loners,” but I agree with those who say that we also need to take more seriously the isolation that most mass shooters live in. Sadly, it seems likely before those horrific massacres that no one said to those shooters, “I’m glad we connected today. It’s been far too long.”
As one of my favorite philosopher-theologians, Martin Buber, put it, all real life happens in the “between.” Buber wasn’t writing about what happens between a person and what she sees while scrolling on her phone.
In his emphasis on the importance of the “between,” Buber was describing the healing that takes place when two individuals “connect,” and in that connection, their separateness dissolves into a sense of “we.”
If we understand the power of connecting with others, we might agree with something else that Buber wrote: “All real life is meeting.”