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A Peculiar Kind of Suffering

I use the wellness center at our local community college often, but perhaps not as often as I should. It’s a great facility. The picture shows only a part of the facility. But frequently I have the whole room full of beautiful machines to myself, due to COVID’s impact. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, a fair number of people have been showing up, returning to their regular routines. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, sometimes I share this collection of expensive machines with just one or two people.

What’s wrong with this picture? We’ve gotten used to living in a way we never did before in our lives - avoiding people. In our neighborhood are at least three sets of neighbors who moved in during the past year or two. I’ve actually spoken to them, but only briefly while walking the dog or something. Normally, we might have invited them to dinner, or included them in a potluck party on our deck together with others. That’s how we used to live. But not recently. We’ve been missing out on one of the things that makes life good, being with other people and sharing our lives. Most of my adult life I have been at church every week and it’s normal for me to hug people I love there. When we watch services online, it is enjoyable, but unfortunately sterile.

Social workers and psychologists say our children are suffering uncountable loss by being kept at home, locked away from teachers and other students. Many schools are returning to in-person classes after making changes in class size or other improvements to protect children from being too close to one another and the risks of COVID. They have been missing out on social development and the personal attention of their teachers. Those are the unmeasurable benefits of being in a group and learning together. Millions of people in our country and around the world are poorer because of such intangible losses, like just being together !

I do enjoy being alone. I do like to have many hours alone to study, to pray, to think, and to write. That is true for me, but for many people that is not true. I do need time to be with other people. But I have taken seriously the guidelines of the CDC for a year, staying away from people. We try to shop when the fewest other customers are in stores. Over the whole past year we have probably had people come into our living room or kitchen for a short time, a shorter than normal visit, perhaps three or four times. And even when we did that, we wondered if we were engaging in risky behavior !

A couple of days ago I stopped in at the local center for the arts. I mentioned my book Courage to Care, to him. We together acknowledged that we are all suffering, suffering the loss of people. Right now, the center features an exhibit of abstract art. Unfortunately, not many are stopping by to enjoy the display. In a normal year, frequent music events, live theater, arts enrichment events, and other gatherings would have been occurring for the public to enjoy. Now there have been very few. Our community and our people are suffering the loss, losing those times of getting together for enriching events, and just having fun.

Will we ever know how much we have suffered? I am wondering whether each of us has been changed, our expectations of life somehow distorted, so we will live more cautiously, we will stay away from doing things that we would have previously considered “normal.” Think with me, do you really want to be in a crowded room, either at a party, a theater, or at an “all you can eat” buffet? How do you feel about shaking hands with anybody, or giving others a hug? Will we avoid occasions where we are connecting with others? Will we all be poorer in ways we don’t even notice? I don’t want to be a pessimist. I do expect that sometime in the future people will be crowding into the community arts center and the wellness center, gathering in churches, going to open houses, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, marking our lives with celebrations, as well as those tender occasions of goodbye. Missing those times together is a kind of suffering we have been enduring. We have experienced great losses. I do hope we recover all of that. But I wonder if I have been changed in some ways I don’t even recognize, ways that will diminish my life for a long time or for good.

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.

Hebrews 10:24-25a NLT

© 2021 Stanley Hagemeyer

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