Let’s NOT Get Physical

[Keia wrote this piece early in the pandemic to counter the narrative that people had to stop being social when what we really needed was to stop being physically close to one another. She believes that the only way to move through this time and come out of the other side more resilient and with a willingness and capacity for growth is to dig deeper into our social connections, whether they be family, friends, or strangers. Physical distance can offer up new ways of building and nurturing relationships. Thanks to Keia’s input and others, Bird Alliance of Oregon abandoned the term “social distancing” and started using “physical distancing”.]

By Keia Booker, Senior Human Relations and Equity Manager

Know that all of this hurts. Know that all of us are hurting. But we rise. 

We are all essential. And it is essential that we recognize the value of our social interactions as being what will get us through this. That may look different for each of us, but there is possibility. There is hope. Maybe now we can truly see each other. Each other’s pain. Each other’s fear. Each other’s joy. Each other’s value. And we can rise to meet each other in a way unimagined before. 

A Dark-eyed Junco perched on a mossy branch.
Dark-eyed Junco, photo by Mick Thompson

I’ve been struggling with this narrative that we have to maintain social distancing measures to keep us safe when in fact being social is just about the only thing that will keep us from harm. It is risky to eliminate social experiences and connection, and using language like “social distancing” is fraught with coded language and an absence of the human experience. Don’t get me wrong, remaining physically distant is necessary right now and extremely important. That somehow physical distance is now equated with being socially distant is a false narrative that needs to be addressed.

I have long been physically distant from a lot of my friends and family since my youth. My father was a Major in the Air Force and we tended to move around every three years, picking up our lives, our memories, and our connections and putting physical distance between them. We were still intertwined in the lives of our loved ones. We just stopped being in their physical sphere. Sometimes, we did let the physical distance put up barriers for us continuing to connect. That was and still is a shame. But that is not what is happening now.

Now, some 30 years and 5 or so moves later, I am reconnecting. This horrible virus has called on me and others to reflect on what is important to us. In that reflection, we are seeing the best friend from grade school and cousin that you always really liked but never found time for. We are also seeing ourselves and what we have taken for granted. There is so much possibility in that recognition that we have been living lives disconnected to the people that shaped us and brought us to this moment. We are teaching our mothers and grandmothers to use video to say “Hello” to their sister living halfway across the globe. We are getting together with college friends and watching Rupaul’s Drag Race together. We are socially reconnecting while being physically distant.

While this virus sweeps across the globe, we are privileged to be able to keep ourselves and others safe by physically distancing, and still be able and newly awakened to connecting with each other. Not everyone has this privilege and we should use it to make the world a better place and make us better as we move through this trying time. We are better in community. We are better when we are willing to rethink and reframe our current situation. This too shall pass. 

What do you want to do while we’re here?