As quarantine restrictions begin to ease all over the world, we should be able to start making some observations about how our weeks of sequestering have affected us. Oh, I don’t mean to enter the conversation about whether quarantining has worked to “flatten the curve” or whether it was the right or wrong action to take or what it has done to the “Economy.” I mean only to make a prediction about how staying locked in our houses and away from the world has affected our humanity.
Colleges and universities were among the first to bar their doors. With students coming back to campus from spring break after having travelled all over the world, these institutions saw a huge risk looming and quickly shifted to online instruction. My two boys, one a junior and the other a senior at university, were home by mid-March and finishing their semester online. For their mother and me, having our sons home was a great blessing, a blessing we did not expect to ever have again. They have enjoyed being home as well; however, neither of them has enjoyed online classes. Both have missed the community and camaraderie of the classroom. So I think they would say, “Good to be home. Bad to be out of classes.” And that is the sweet & sour paradox quarantining seems to have created. Families have spent far more time together the past couple months than they otherwise would have, but they haven’t spent time with other people beyond their family.
Because I have continued to go to work each day, I have gotten a glimpse into the neighborhoods and little communities I pass along the way to and from school. I can’t recall seeing so many gardens in back (and front) yards! It seems everyone has a home improvement project going. I personally know two dads who are building tree forts for their children. People are walking and biking together, and sitting on their front porches in the cool of the day. It is as if many families are doing the things they always wanted to do together but were too busy to do before. Sweet.
The sour side of the paradox is the effect of isolation on the human who was created for community. Many of us may be enjoying our extra time with family, but the time away from church, school, work, and myriad other gatherings dulls us to the ways of communing with other people. It takes work to love other people and to be the kind of person who is lovable. It takes practice, and we haven’t been practicing. How will we react to other people after a two month hiatus?
Military families know something of this. When a service member comes home after deployment, there is always a long and sometimes difficult adjustment period. While he was away, life at home continued without him. New routines were established, new knowledge and experiences were shared by those at home that the returning service member is excluded from. Growing back together takes work and time.
I think we have something like that in store for us all. For many of us, our families have grown closer together while growing apart from those outside our families. Our returning to communities we used to know well may be a little difficult for a while. We may not be able to just pick up where we left off. It might be more like starting afresh, which can sound daunting and like a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it. We will have to practice patience and kindness. We will have to die to ourselves in ways that we haven’t for a while. The reward will be great, but it will take some time.
There is a lot of talk about people working remotely from now on, about schools not going back to campus in the fall, about churches continuing to stream services online rather than meeting together. I hope we will be cautious about running to that sort of lifestyle. Just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should. We are made for community. Restoring our community with each other will be hard work and maybe even risky, but it will be worth it in the long run. Quarantine life has been in some ways sweet for many families. Now it is time to turn that sweet inside out and reconnect with our larger communities so we can redeem what the sour side of quarantining has taken away.