I went to meet a friend last week for coffee. We have known each other for five years.We are close. And we have been separated by hundreds of miles since November.
“Let’s meet at the same Starbuck’s where we first met five years ago.” She said.
“Great. We can sit outside. I look forward to it!”
When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw her there. In her truck. Waiting for me. And it got different. What would have once been two friends getting out of their cars and hugging each other tight while this one screams or yells or makes something of a scene for the joy at seeing my friend, that is not what happened.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma where I live, our mayor had us shelter in place for the month of April.
Then, on May 1st, we were open for business.
In less than two months, the death toll from COVID19 worldwide has gone from 50K to 371K. In the US, from 6K to 106K.
Those are daunting numbers from where I sit.
Now there is a practice called “social distancing.” Kind of an oxymoron. Or a mixed message. Definitely a shitty thing to experience as a social creature.
I love people. I am a people person. And while I say I have acclimated here to the experience of not being social in person, I do really miss. People.
Our coffee date got complicated really quick. She had a mask on. I had a mask on. Mine is the face of a smiling dog, which I got after hating the experience of having my smile covered up at the grocery store. The plan was to sit outside at Starbuck’s for coffee. But the weather was wet and all of the outdoor tables were stacked up. Not an option.
Now, before we have even begun to have our reunion, one that was meant to be coffee and then a walk together to catch up, we were facing potentially life and death decisions, just to think whether to go inside for a coffee.
I am not yet comfortable with the idea of being inside a restaurant where there might be some human incubators having coffee so instead, we decide to go to a nearby neighborhood to go for a walk.
And when we went for our walk, that too, was different. We were constantly being mindful of keeping our recommended six foot distance so that spit from laughter wouldn’t try to make one of us sick. Walking on opposite sides of the neighborhood street. When people would pass by with their dogs or partners, everyone spread out, as if one of us smelled REALLY BAD.
I love my friend. But I don’t love the situation we are still in with respect to health safety and the fact that the prudent measures to preserve that include keeping those we love at six foot long arms length.
My arms are tired of it. And so is my heart. But I know that I am powerless over it. It is what it is, that phrase that annoys the shit out of me, applies.
And while I am truly grateful for the things I have been able to do during this time, this part feels like punishment. And no one did anything wrong.
I am nervous about the future. This is going to take a while. And I can be tempted to join others who are close in proximity, out to dinner, gathering for coffee.
A few days ago, I went to the park with less than ten friends. This is the most social interaction I have had since February. We sat six feet or more apart. Some wore masks. There was one who chose to sit right next to another. They do not share the same home. I felt like I was watching reckless behavior. At first, I was angry. And judgmental. The anger came from fear. I was also jealous.
I want to touch my friends. And I want to be touched. I am lucky to live with my daughter who I get to touch. I used to meet with large groups of friends on a regular basis. We would crowd the room of a Sunday School class, thirty or forty of us. Lining the walls in little kid chairs. All sharing experience, strength and hope with each other. Laughing. Crying. I am fortunate that I still get to meet with these people either by phone or on ZOOM meetings with video. But it is not the same.
At the park with the small group, I left that gathering high. I was stimulated by the human engagement, albeit at six plus feet apart. We were in the same space. Three dimensional. I could hear everyone’s responses as people shared one at a time. In the ZOOM meeting setting, there is no way to look around a room when someone bares their soul to see the compassion on the faces of those who are listening. To feel that sense that is only possible in person. A body gathered. In the flesh. That is spiritual. And I miss it terribly.
Tonight, I sat down to watch a movie. I had a wonderful productive day. A ZOOM meeting at one end, a conference call in the middle. And a gorgeous sunny day around all of that. A couple of calls with friends. Packed a little for my upcoming move to Florida. Hung out with my daughter who lives with me until she went fishing. I made a nice dinner of shrimp and zucchini with garlic butter pasta and baked chocolate chip cookies with a date with me and my couch and a movie to look forward to.
And once I sat down to watch the movie, what I got was not that sigh of relief or satisfaction after a productive day. Instead, I felt ill at ease. Because I am alone. And tired of that. It is not that I don’t like my company. I have been better alone with me in recent months than I have been in many years. It is just that there is so much of that with this pandemic. It is the fact that the option to have a friend over or to go be with a friend has risks to consider.
I fear that it will wear on me. Like water on a rock. And that I will put myself in a vulnerable place health wise to join those who are laughing along the restaurant cafes in my neighborhood. So at least, I thought if I write it all down, maybe by sharing with you, I won’t be alone. And I can get on with my movie.
In case you are wondering, it is “St. Vincent” with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. A feel good comedy that I have seen and selected as part of my delightful day. And I do feel better. So thanks for listening.