Their cars and trucks and jeeps line the small parking lot’s perimeter next to the church on the corner. They gather at the same times each week lately, in this season of physical distancing.
Before, they always met in the church basement to talk about their alcohol addictions, a universal life fact they share. With the church being closed to help flatten the pandemic’s curve, the basement is not accessible. So, the parking lot will have to do.
They form a big circle, the few dozens of them gathered, with their lawn chairs about six feet apart, and have their regular meeting inside the perimeter of vehicles providing protective “walls.”
On cold days, heavy coats, knit hats, and gloves protect them from the early spring chill. On the occasional warm and sunny days, some are in t-shirts and shorts, welcoming the signs of more and more moderate weather to come.
They can’t stay away. They treasure their meetings. They need one another. They depend on the camaraderie and support. They are in it together.
And because they are in it together, they will do whatever they need to, whatever they can, to make it work. Those connection points and reminders that their struggles are not meant to be borne alone.
We take encouragement from them. They show us that we humans need one another, that we crave and depend on connection. They set an example in this urgent time. They’ve found a balance between the basic human need for social interaction and another basic human need for well-being, health, and survival. They are doing their part to care for themselves and others in their challenges and care for their broader community struggling amid a pandemic with a reach that has not been seen in generations.
One of our friends wrote to us the other day, expressing his frustration with the term “social distancing,”
They misnamed this whole thing – it shouldn’t be “social” distancing; it should be “physical” distancing. Social is the worst word they could have picked!
He’s making a good point.
It is really about physical distancing. To make us safer. To avoid a horrific catastrophe.
But social distancing goes against our most basic human make-up. We need to be social, all of us, even we introverts. We all may require varying degrees of social interaction. Still, none of us can go through this life alone and be emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy.
60 Minutes, one of our favorite people, professor, lecturer, best-selling author, and new podcast host Dr. Brenè Brown, was interviewed on the TV newsmagazine show. Right off the bat, she was asked if she categorized her books as “self-help.”
“That bugs the crap out of me,” she responded. “I don’t think we’re supposed to help ourselves. We’re supposed to help each other … We’re hard-wired for connection,” she stated firmly, based on her 20-year extensive research on connection, courage, and vulnerability.
Hard-wired for connection.
We see it proven in the happier moments of our lives. Meals are more satisfying when they can be shared. Laughter is that much more special when we’re laughing with someone else. We want those we love around us to celebrate our graduations or weddings or the achievement of a dream. It’s innate.
We also see it when life presents us with pain. In times of death and loss, we long for support and reassurance. When a marriage falls apart, we need to be reminded that we are loved. When addictions get the best of us, and we decide we have to confront the harsh realities they create, we reach out to support groups to guide us through a new life of sobriety. It’s natural for us. It may be tough to ask for, but it’s natural to desire the support and help.
And when a global pandemic spreads and spreads, touching exponentially more people and causing dangerous spikes in admissions to intensive care units, we inherently connect to those who mean the most to us.
In whatever ways we can.
So, if the church basement isn’t a safe space to hold our AA meetings right now, we humans use the parking lot alongside the church to connect with our sponsors and fellow travelers to ride together on the road to recovery.
If going to the restaurants and pubs and coffee shops where we usually catch up with our friends isn’t allowed right now, we connect through Skype or Zoom or call or text or write to keep in touch.
So, if churches are closed or theaters are dark, or arenas are empty, we create ways to worship online and broadcast songs from our homes and use those empty public spaces as hospitals.
We find ways to connect with one another, care for one another, uplift, and encourage one another. To remind one another how we need not and are not alone.
We’re hard-wired for connection. And we’re showing one another that the human spirit is creative enough to make the connections that we so innately need — not merely to survive, but ultimately to thrive.
To be better and more durable than ever before.