I’ve been thinking about how our lives have changed in the past three months. I’ve been remembering the way things used to be when we could freely embrace one another, pat a friend on the shoulder to show encouragement, shake someone’s hand to express thanks or congratulations.
The handshake stands out in my mind because it was just a few days into the start of “social distancing” when public health experts were beginning to recommend the avoidance of handshakes as greetings, that I witnessed the interaction between my husband Peter and a friend of a neighbor who had stopped by the front of our house to pick up an old ladder Peter had set out as “free” because we no longer had use for it. The friend of a neighbor came by in his pick-up truck, excited to retrieve this free item, grateful to have it and insistently reached out to shake Peter’s hand, to convey his thanks. And my husband took his hand and let him shake it, rushing inside afterwards to thoroughly wash.
“I saw that,” I said, “And here we just talked about practicing social distancing, avoiding getting too close, and you shook the man’s hand.”
“I just couldn’t refuse it,” my husband said, “I just couldn’t”
And I understood. It’s part of human compassion, that desire for connection and now we’ve lost it. Now, not only can we not touch or embrace — unless consorting with an intimate member of our family — often we can no longer see each other’s face because we’re wearing masks. We can no longer see if someone is smiling or frowning at us. Add sunglasses to the facemask and we are clueless as to the emotional disposition of the people we encounter in our day–to-day activities during the 2020 Pandemic.
Meanwhile in this same society, law enforcement does retain the authority to physically “touch” anyone they think should be apprehended using whatever methods they deem are appropriate. Perhaps at this time in human history- this is why the actions of the police officer who pressed his knee into the back and neck of George Floyd are so reprehensible. We can no longer use touch to show kindness and compassion, but it is still being used to maintain control and authority. It was used by a police officer to commit an act of murder, not with a gun, but with physical contact. His actions have elicited an outcry not only from citizens in the United States demanding social justice, but from people outraged by racial prejudice around the world. They demand to be heard.
In the past, a protest march would have included demonstrators linking arms and holding hands, but during the 2020 Pandemic this activity puts others at a health risk. Even singing together is risky, because studies have shown that singing and shouting can help spread the novel coronavirus. How can we protest injustice?
Candlelight vigils in doorways, creative messaging through banners, sculptures, murals are possible ways to communicate how we feel. Another way is to work to change the current leadership in our country by volunteering with an organization that has similar goals to yours or providing them with monetary support.
But most important of all is to remember all that you have witnessed around you and listen. Just listen.