Sunday, April 5, 2020

Isolation and Connection

"Isolation can be more terrible than death."  So begins an article by Timothy Radcliffe in a recent issue of Commonweal. He goes on to mention the importance of touch in our daily lives, especially now, during the virus lockdown, when we have such limited opportunities to touch and be touched.  "We are touched into life by each other," Radcliffe writes.

He puts his reflection in the context of the Passover and Holy Week season, with its message of hope. But, on a purely secular level, it seems to me that the greatest suffering--especially now, with the whole world linked in a grim face-off with illness and death--involves feeling alone, abandoned, and forgotten, feeling that no one cares.  We can endure pain if we know we will be comforted in some way.  We need not only medicine but a hug or handshake, yet these sources of touch are denied to us now, and possibly for weeks to come.  How do we live without being touched?

I am thinking now of the people living alone, the elderly especially, limited to phone conversations with loved ones, fearful of germs, alarmed by the news, and cut off from seeing their friends.  My wife and I make an effort to phone or write to those we know we live alone, especially two friends in nursing homes, who now are more isolated than before since family members must stay away.  We can only touch them from a distance.

For many, death might be a welcome respite from such suffering.  What can I do about it? Very little in the wider world outside my circle of friends and neighbors. But I can remind myself, and those whom I contact, that we are never truly alone. We are part of the whole of life and share in the distress of untold millions we don't know.

Yet we must find something to be grateful for.  It might be something as simple as a blue sky on a cool day or an internet link to something inspirational; it might be a bit of comedy or music or a memory.  It might take the form of a prayer that reminds us that we are loved--and part of a world in which much good work is being done in very challenging times.

I am also thinking of younger people who have been spending more time online than ever before, increasing their level of isolation.  Psychologists study what they call "skin hunger," which distance learning and other electronic forms of isolation have done much in recent years to increase. Much as been written about how the computer has turned us into a culture of loners, who often experience depression.

We all yearn for what we need: human touch--or at least a friendly voice or message that reminds us that we are more connected than we think.

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