What Our Impatience With Social Distancing Says About Our Humanity

There is something special about saying, “I am here for you, and I thank you for being here for me.”

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

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The advent of social media and smartphones and other electronic forms of communication has given the impression that we, as human beings, really don’t need to be physically connected with other people. We can text, or Skype, or FaceTime. We can share our lives through Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. Who cares that we can’t get together? Who cares that we can’t shake hands? Who cares that we need to stay six feet apart?

Well, actually, we all do care. The overwhelming majority of Americans are under mandatory stay-at-home orders. And many of them are already getting cabin fever, despite that we are not even close to being done with social distancing.

We want to get together: with friends and family and colleagues. We want to gather and share physical space with each other. We want to celebrate our religious rituals together. An e-service, which I have conducted as a lay pastor, is just not the same.

There is something very special about touching someone in solidarity.

Even when it comes to shaking hands, being forced not to do it makes me yearn to shake someone’s hands again, makes me yearn to give others a hug. There is something so special about reaching out and touching someone in solidarity, saying: “I am here for you, and I thank you for being here for me.”

Almost eleven years ago, we lost our daughter to cancer. As they covered her casket with dirt, I lost it. None of the words helped me. What did help was my friend’s hand, holding my own. I will never forget that as long as I draw breath.

I think this is part and parcel of being human, and the fact that being forced apart is giving us anxiety bodes well for us as human beings. With all the forces pushing us apart — from our electronic lives and all the apps that compete for our attention — that we still want to be together is a great thing.

Let us never forget this feeling. Let us never let those forces that divide us — along racial, ethnic, religious, and other lines — win the day. Let us always remember that being divided makes us weaker. When this is all over, when we can finally come out from under the scourge of this horror, let us never forget how difficult it is to be forced apart. May this experience make us stronger, may it make us all be a better people and a better society in the end.

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Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.