Unique Voices 24th Mar, 2021
In all the talk about social distancing, protecting oneself and others, self-isolation and quarantining at home, what seems to be forgotten is what makes most of us feel alive, connectedness. Human beings do not exist in a vacuum, but in a web of social relationships embedded in our five senses. We hear, see, smell, touch, taste. Doing all this in the presence of one another makes a difference.
Surely, the recent crisis has also been an exercise in the abundance of human creativity. Many of us have connected with friends and family through zoom, skype, whatsapp, we have discovered new culinary skills and fascinating self-development classes one can have online. Some of us have even made new friends. The beginning of lockdown seemed like an exercise in remaining connected despite the odds. So many jokes circulated on social media reminding us where we belong and even helping us discover bonds we did not know we had with certain groups. Sourdough starters were passed from door to door, so we could all bake our community bread. In our house kitchen, we discovered brewing, we got in touch with nature through making our own kombucha in seasonal flavours, elderflower, rose, strawberry and basil, watermelon. Each month in quarantine produced a new flavour. Yet, we longed to share it with friends.
Soon enough during lockdown online dating started flourishing. There was surprise expressed about how natural it felt. How a connection was perfectly possible without meeting after all. But what about our bodily connections? Our need for contact, touch, even for mingling in small spaces, sharing food from the same plate? What about young people some of whom had just embarked on exploring their sexuality? Apparently, it was reported in the news, couples who did not live together could not have sex! Such scrutiny of our personal bodily boundaries is not what most of us have anticipated or ever contemplated as acceptable.
‘Black lives matter’ dominated the media, and yet other discriminations have also come to the fore during the pandemic. The notion of one’s body being a miasma resonates with the LGBT communities, some members of which have experienced direct discrimination of the sort a few decades earlier during the Aids outbreak. Gay sexuality was linked then with the risk of contamination or, even worse, the suspicion of deliberately contaminating others. There is currently the danger that sexuality, community life, a wish to be close and to explore boundaries as well as difference and diversity are becoming once again demonised. In our strive to be safe, the risk is that we may split between those of us who are sane, sanitised, happily insular and therefore, responsible citizens and those for whom connection is paramount for their mental health and who end up feeling that unless they ‘break the rules’ they risk suffocation or sinking into a dangerous depressive state. The danger there is that those who desire connectedness may be classed as compromising the safety of others. Polarisation is known for cultivating social unrest and hatred. Perhaps, the question here is how we can all recognise that connectedness is a fundamental quality of being human and that, though there is no life without risk, feeling safe in our bodily boundaries is also paramount for being in the world with one another. The balance between the two seems particularly hard at the moment.