by Kate Stukenborg
When I first began reading news about Coronavirus, I never imagined St. Mary’s would have to lock its doors to keep the virus out.
Even when headlines began to include cities closer to my own, I continued to underestimate the potential impact. In fact, I didn’t necessarily feel the weight of circumstances until I began to receive emails spattered with words like “surreal” and “weird” and, of course, “cancelled.” The magnitude continued to swell with each email, news update, and cancellation. But what really called my attention to the weight and magnitude of the situation was a faculty member’s email with the words “global health crisis.” I had read enough to see this phrase and various renditions of it in news articles, but the surprise I felt when seeing it right below my name in the “recipient” section caused me to stop and reread the message. I thought, those are the kinds of words that belong in a history book, not a school email. And yet here we are. The monotonous hours we pass worrying what will happen next or wondering what to do next will one day be transformed into words in the pages of history books.
Of course, that fact doesn’t make clocks tick any faster, and it certainly doesn’t make being alone any less lonely.
Burdened with the weight of a health crisis and overwhelmed by the reach of its impact, Americans began to implement our only viable preventative measure: social distancing. The point of social distancing measures is to slow the exponential spread of the pandemic, and the strategy has proven effective during past pandemics. Although distancing is a necessary measure, minimal human contact can engender higher stress levels and feelings of aloneness. Humans are hard-wired for connection, and we need it now more than ever. In this time, we can’t let physical distance inhibit our connection to each other.
In his book “Poetry, Language, and Thought,” Martin Heidigger writes that “All distances in time and space are shrinking … Yet the frantic abolition of all distances brings no nearness.” Humans have frantically churned out new technology which allows us to virtually remove physical distance through calls, video chats, and social media. Yet, these developments often leave us feeling alone. Now we are trying to create distance between one another, and physical distance is just as unimportant. The distance does not have to make us feel less near. In fact, Heidigger goes on to write “Short distance is not in itself nearness. Nor is great distance remoteness.”
But if physical distance has nothing to do with nearness, how can we be near to one another?
I believe nearness is about being there for others in more than a physical sense. It’s about making your whole self available to others. If your friend calls, answer. If you think about someone, text or call them. When you talk to someone, try to be intentional; ask about the thing you know will make her light up: her favorite band, the book she’s reading, the movie she loves. Think about what will make you both laugh, and share it. Eat a meal or read a book or draw something with a friend over FaceTime. If you’re really bored, you can even do homework together.
As I’m preparing to graduate — whatever that may look like — I know I’ll soon be facing a whole lot of physical distance from my friends. Maybe this is a time to practice nearness in unconventional, creative ways. In my last few weeks as a St. Mary’s student and in the near future, I want to remain as near to the people I love as I possibly can. Six feet apart or hundreds of miles away, I refuse to be distant.