Coming Together While Staying Apart

“Social distancing.” It’s a new and unwelcomed term that we’ve all been recently forced to learn and, now, to practice. As COVID-19 spreads like wildfire around the world, medical authorities tell us it’s time to physically distance ourselves from others and to avoid all large public gatherings. Since this highly contagious virus can be spread by individuals with no apparent symptoms, the only way to attempt containment is for all of us to keep a “safe” physical distance of six feet from non-family members.

 Misanthropes excluded; this edict is extremely challenging for the majority of us. No sporting events. No church services. No concerts. Don’t attend the movies. Stay away from nursing homes. Don’t shake hands. Avoid hugs. Stay home as much as possible. The most vulnerable, those with underlying physical conditions or weakened immune systems, are cautioned to voluntarily quarantine themselves. And when you live alone, no matter your age, physical isolation can quickly become discouraging and even depressing. 
Last Spring, my daughter and I visited the magnificent Muir Woods National Monument near San Francisco.  The 558 acres of Muir Woods hold a majestic display of old growth coastal redwood trees. These trees can grow to a height of 367 feet and a width of twenty-two feet at the base. Imagine walking through a forest of trees the height of thirty-five story skyscrapers! It’s truly breathtaking. 

 Not only are these redwoods exceptional in their beauty and majesty, they are representative of how we thrive as humans. 

-The redwoods grow very close to each other. People experience healthiest growth in relationship with one another, too.
-Their root systems are intertwined and even fuse together. Isn’t that indicative of our closest relationships? That we have common roots and shared values?
-The trees literally hold each other up. Can I get an “amen?” Consider me “Exhibit A” of a person who has been held up by dear friends through the trials of the last several years. 
-The redwoods thrive in thick groves. This gives them tremendous strength against the forces of nature. Some of us have a lot of friends. Some have just a few, deep friendships. But do you know of a single person who is emotionally healthy and has no close friends?
Recently, I was comparing the miracle of these Muir Woods redwoods to the beauty of friendship as I was leading a letter writing workshop at a nearby cancer hospital. Two of the participants, both patients, had met many years before as they each began cancer treatment. I was so moved by their clear affection and support for one another and used the analogy of the Muir Woods trees as a picture of their friendship and mutual encouragement. Imagine how slack-jawed I became when one of the women quietly shared: “I used to work at Muir Woods.”  Seriously?
I asked this former park ranger if I accurately described the strength that the redwoods gave to each other. She assured me that I did. Then, she shared another beautiful fact about the redwood trees: they grow in circles! By growing in that way, the trees shield each other from strong winds. Oh, what a picture of what friends can do for one another. I want to help shield and support others through the trials of life, don’t you? 

 Yes, each of us is currently in the midst of a tremendous life trial. This is no joke. We really need to heed the doctors’ advice to be “socially distant” right now to minimize the virus’ spread.

 But please, please remember that physical distance from others doesn’t necessitate emotional distance. Reach out. Facetime one another. Send encouraging notes and cards in the mail. Type caring text messages. Send emails. Make phone calls to brighten another’s day. Offer to buy groceries for those who shouldn’t leave their homes. 
Please be especially mindful of the elderly and of those who are the most vulnerable due to a weakened physical condition. They already feel alone. But we can help others not to feel so isolated. Never underestimate the impact that your simple acts of kindness can make.

 For lots of great ideas of how to love and support others through this ordeal, check out this wonderful blog post by Courtney DeFeo. 

 By coming together even while staying apart, we can all continue to grow and thrive, just like those majestic redwoods.

Jesus said: 
“Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.”
Matthew 25:40 MSG