It has been said that “distance makes the heart grow fonder.” This saying became a reality that I experienced as a member of the US Air Force. I endured several family separations for various deployments or change of duty stations. I’ve since retired and have transitioned into civilian life and now have a different pattern of daily regimen. Telephone conversations with family members thousands of miles and several time zones away have been replaced with face to face talks on the porch, laughs at the dinner table, or an embrace of comfort on a shaded bench at a park. There is a chemical reaction that takes place within us when we see or even anticipate meeting a friend or loved one. Connecting is a life-enhancer. There’s no substitute for the benefits of physical connection and yet, we find ourselves in a moment that separation is warranted. In these novel times, we have witnessed the emergence of terms such as “bend the curve” and “social distancing.” Although we are limiting our physical interactions to reduce the spread and strain on our healthcare systems, we must hold to the intent of staying connected.
The current pandemic has permeated our peripherals and has become the focus of how we see the world. The way we greet each other, the way we shop, and how we communicate have evolved in ways that were unimaginable only a few months ago. I could not have imagined after retiring from the military that I would again hear the terms essential or non-essential personnel. Among the many stressors of this health crisis; staying home versus earning a living to provide for our families is a challenge that many face. There is also the factor of a level of isolation.
The Centers for Disease Control advises that older adults and people of any age with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for COVID-19. Like most of you, I have family and friends that have a myriad of vulnerabilities. For me, it’s my mother. She’s 80, has a laundry list of underlying conditions, and is of African-American descent. Recent numbers have shown that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Here in Mississippi, and according to the 2010 US Census, African Americans makeup about 37 per of the population but are trending above 50% of Coronavirus fatalities. These statistics mirror the racial disparity in my home state of Louisiana as well. Despite our own reward of physically spending time with these loved ones, I understand that the risk is too high to gamble with. This vulnerable population is at the forefront of our minds and should receive the highest degree of considerations. I sometimes mentally flashback to my military days of decontamination exercises before I enter a home. We must take care to practice good hygiene practices when interacting with those most susceptible. Awareness of available data and using the CDC guidelines are two of the tools available in doing our best to help keep our loved ones safe. Certain situations may prevent us from physically being present. We have to consider and implement ways to come together while separated during this difficult time.
Even as case numbers are going up, some of our daily activities are slowing down. I have taken more time to observe and reflect on things that are not usually high on my priority list. Conversations have become more meaningful, sunny days are a little brighter, music has become a companion and fills the voids of isolation. Schools are closed and we are getting to know our children in a different way. This is a worldwide issue and on a community scale, it will take community-wide solutions. Using what we have to connect may include telephone calls, FaceTime, or something as personal as writing a letter. It may be a conversation conducted from a front porch that connects with a neighbor on the street.
Our daily actions now will have a lasting impact on the days to come. On those days when I find myself physically alone, I can find comfort in picking up the phone to hear a familiar voice, knowing that even from a distance we are connected and working together.
Submitted by Kevin Brown