Closer Together, Further Apart

Written by Jessica Tunis

It might be the understatement of the decade to say that things have been turned upside down lately. In a few short weeks, our lives have been drastically altered by a potentially deadly new disease, and rapid social and economic upheaval has jolted everyone out of their regular routines. Terms like “shelter in place” and “social distancing" have entered the lexicon, and panic-buying has emptied the shelves of pantry staples and hand sanitizer. We live in interesting times.

We’re all coping in different ways. Down at the store, we’re taking orders over the phone for everything from fertilizer to dog food to vegetable starts, and setting it out for folks to pick up curbside. Mostly, we can’t greet customers with a smile as we are used to, because we are hidden from view, answering phones, unpacking orders, washing our hands, taking orders over email, and washing our hands again. At the grocery stores, in the pharmacies, and down at the Feed and Farm Supply, many are working overtime, at no small risk to themselves, to provide essential goods and services to the community, while maintaining 6 feet of distance from each other.

The 6-foot distance goes against many of our instincts, especially when we find ourselves among friends. And the constant handwashing has left many, especially those who are still in contact with the public for work reasons, with chapped and roughened hands. These stripped fingertips are a talisman against worse ills.

This virus has caused so much damage and wreaked havoc on so many lives and livelihoods, that to list them all here would take more time and tears than we have. And still, it is not close to over, and there are more losses yet to be counted. But amidst the losses, blessings rise like seedlings watered by the spring rain. Without minimizing the struggle, we would urge you to count the blessings. Water them like seedlings, or, like wishes blown from a dandelion seedhead, let them grow in the cracks that have opened. Hold your loved ones close, in the heart if not in body. There are so many ways to show someone that you care. In this age of digital connectivity, we have the tools to connect with friends and family near and far. Suddenly, we have the time to do so. What will you say? What is worth saying, in these times? All our actions are infused with a sense of poignancy. Like a bitter flavor that stimulates the appetite (there’s that dandelion again!) the shelter-in-place orders remind us of the sweetness that until so recently we took for granted; dinners with friends, playdates at the park, a movie or a concert or a trip to the local nursery. We hunger for those times, and they will come again. In the meantime, however, we hunker down, and send each other text messages, and make plans to meet up when this is all over, whenever that may be. May the hunger make the eventual satiation more meaningful.

The same invisible germs (the ones that can live on cardboard for 2 days, and plastic for 5) are telling us a story if only we can tune in to hear it. Every surface is touched by so many; nothing escapes contact for long. We are linked together in chains that have remained invisible, or unexamined, for too long. Even the most self-sufficient homesteader must buy tools, seeds, food, or supplies. Someone must handle each object, pack it in boxes, set it in the mail, where it is touched again, loaded in and out of trucks by the hands of human workers. The goods are driven, or flown, or shipped, and unloaded by more hands, loaded and unloaded, packed and repacked, until they might find themselves on a shelf, in a store, in a delivery truck, or a wooden counter, before landing at your doorstep. Suddenly, in the harsh light of this virus, we see that everything is touched by everything else, in webs that stretch the small wide world over, a net that encompasses our neighbors and our parents, factory workers in China, our grandmothers, and beloved cancer survivors, our children with asthma and the checkers at the local grocery store, and that super healthy guy who jogs through the neighborhood every morning. We are all connected, in a very real sense. What touches one of us has the potential to touch many, for good or for ill.

In recent weeks, we have learned to see surfaces in the same way that an immune-compromised person might already have been aware of, as growing grounds for the tiny invisible bacteria that have the potential to reshape our destiny. We have learned that it can be an act of heroism to work at a grocery store. And while we have now used more hand sanitizer than we ever thought was possible in a day, we have also seen firsthand that the webs that connect us are made of more than the slick rope of fear. We are staying 6 feet apart because we are all bound together. That is another kind of tie that binds us up in its complex threads, that has suddenly become visible. Any given individual is unlikely to have a severe form of the virus; some may not even know that they have it. But we all stay home when we can, and 6 feet apart when we must go out, to protect the population as a whole from worse damage. To protect each other. In this difficult time, we are looking for hope amidst the wreckage, the habits that we have taken for granted, the assumptions we have let narrow our vision. We find it in the kindness of friends and strangers alike, and in unlikely places, too. In Venice, dolphins have been seen swimming in from the ocean, into canals that are running clear for the first time in decades. The bay area freeways are all clear, without traffic. Air quality is improving the world over. Kale starts and zucchini seeds are in high demand from the nursery, and many neighbors are taking advantage of recently opened CSA’s to support their local farmers, whose markets have been disrupted. What if, when this was all over, we let some of those seeds that we have sown keep growing? What if we tended them, and made space for them, long after the immediate need was over? What if we remembered this time, not just for the troubles that it brought, but for the way it showed us what else might be possible, and what else we might be capable of?

Stay safe out there, friends. Stay kind. Wash your hands.