I’m a hugger. Maybe it’s from growing up in a large, loud Italian family where affection was second-nature and my MawMaw greeted everyone with a kiss right on the lips. Or maybe it’s because I have lived in New Orleans my whole life and it’s just how we say “hello” here. I’ve hugged countless strangers after good conversations in waiting rooms and long grocery lines. I hug because I’m a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve person who genuinely loves connecting with people.
I’m a helper. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of volunteers, people involved in everything from church choirs and school fairs to the Junior League and the Rotary Club. Having a bake sale? We’ll bring some cupcakes! Need donations for your book drive? We’ll have a box for you! I spent almost half a decade after college working for non-profits, including rounding up blood donors and helping to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the fight against cancer. I help because I am an empath to my core and sometimes it actually hurts me to pass up doing something that would make someone else’s life a little easier/happier/better.
And now the hugger in me feels dangerous. The helper in me feels utterly helpless.
This pandemic makes me feel disconnected from my world, but not just because I’m at home instead of living my normal day-to-day life of going to work and running errands. I feel disconnected because I cannot connect with people the way I usually do.
On my first real grocery run about two weeks into the quarantine, I was first in line in front of the warehouse club. Waiting outside, it felt like “Supermarket Sweep” meets “The Hunger Games” as people were ready to race to fill their carts as quickly as possible and get out unscathed. A lady in scrubs and a surgical mask got in line behind me, careful to leave the space of about two carts between us. During the small talk we made, I asked her if she was working at a hospital in these crazy times. She said she wasn’t, that she was a hospice nurse who was no longer going to hospitals until the pandemic was over. I know it takes a very special heart to work in hospice, so I thanked her for her work. I could see she had tears in her eyes. She missed her hospital patients and knew that, when their time came, they’d be alone. Like so many others these days.
Her helper’s heart was hurting. And I couldn’t hug her.
Inside the store, it looked like a scene from a sci-fi movie: gloved hands pushed carts through a sea of masked people. Shelves were bare, and as forklifts moved pallets of product onto aisles, crowds swarmed around them. It was stressful, to say the least.
In the produce section, someone bumped into my cart. I looked up to see a twenty-something mom pushing her young child in a wheelchair… while pulling her cart full of groceries behind her. She smiled apologetically and continued past. My heart sank. I started to offer to push her cart for her but quickly remembered that I couldn’t offer that. I couldn’t get that close to a stranger because of social distancing guidelines. And I couldn’t abandon my cart – with my allotted one case of diapers and one container of baby formula – because my family needed those things.
My helper’s heart was hurting.
I am so blessed that my family hasn’t yet been touched by coronavirus, but the effects of it on the world around me feel suffocating. The empathy I have for those struggling feels heavier than ever and knowing the sheer magnitude of how many people are struggling makes me feel physically ill. The juxtaposition of life now and that of the life of just 6 weeks ago makes heart ache and my stomach churn.
While I treasure this time alone at home with my husband and infant son, I yearn for the normalcy of life before this “Great Pause” we are living in.
Sure, I enjoy all the extra FaceTimes and Zoom happy hours these days, but I miss being able to watch my mother snuggle her grandson instead of waving at him from her front porch 6 feet away. I love watching neighborhoods come together with Bear Hunts and paper Easter eggs posted in windows, but I miss being able to shake hands with neighbors while we are out for a walk. I mourn the “firsts” my son is missing out on, like his first Easter with extended family. Virtual life is a wonderful stand-in for the connections we are missing, but there truly is no substitute.
I try so very hard these days to let myself feel what I feel in those hard moments and then focus on the positives. The uncertainty of this time is scary and stressful, but the one thing I am certain of is this: when we are able to hit the “play” button again, you’d better get ready for a hug.
What ways are you finding to fight the disconnect that has come with being in quarantine?