Connection is Sweet

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As I write this, March is less than 12 hours away from ending and I am absolutely delighted about it. There are several reasons for this, first, April has always been one of my favorite months. My wedding anniversary, several special birthdays and often, Easter are all in the month that brings us warmer weather and spring flowers. But the biggest reason I am happy to see March go is that to me, March is now irrevocably tied to Covid.

I don’t remember anything of note about March 2021, but March 2020 stands out in my memory, in sharp relief. I am very clear on the exact date of our last in person training event, the scramble for bath tissue and the transition to being home ALL. THE. TIME.

For two years now, I have been extremely cloistered. As author and podcaster Kendra Adachi said, “I have homed at home, I have worked at home, I have ‘gymed’ at home, I have done all the things at home.”

Weirdly, I have found that “home” will change you. Now to be clear, we aren’t talking about the lovely meaning of the word “home,” who you consider family, the memories that are made, the safety that welcomes you back after a long day away. This is the literal meaning of the word home: the house or apartment where a person lives (Merriam Webster online). For the kind of “home” we have been experiencing is one that divided us from others and left us in smaller units, with very little extended community.

One of the key ways we learn to navigate the world is through social modeling. We go out, interact with other people and do what they do. To be sure, not all the behavior is ideal, but we negotiate the space around us by seeing and replicating. But for that to work, you have to actually leave home and be in connection with other people.

For a few weeks now, I have been thinking I need to get out more, but just couldn’t seem to follow through on it. There are many emotions that stopped me, but no actual good “reason.”

Last Friday, I finally couldn’t put it off any longer and went out to run a couple of errands. I was looking at a wall of kitchen utensils when a woman asked me if the cart that was blocking her way was mine. In a voice that I barely recognized, I indicated it was not. I was so shaken from the “interaction” (if we can even call it that) that I had to leave the section. The experience shook me because the voice I barely recognized, MY VOICE, was sharp and unfriendly. I was taken aback at that and realized that being out of the habit of interaction, apparently makes me less friendly, less polite and maybe even a little less… human.

I am not debating whether the measures that were taken to combat Covid were right or wrong. I think we were doing the best we could, with something no one had any true understanding of. But I do believe that social distancing, isolating and many of the other precautions have done some damage to us, as a society. And that damage can now only be repaired by actually leaving home and having our rough edges scrape against others, until they are softened and can more easily fit into the jigsaw puzzle that is humanity.

I don’t think that my experience is unusual or isolated (no pun intended) as I have friends and colleagues who have shared that they also don’t remember “how to people” anymore.

So, what to do about this?

I personally have vowed to leave home more often (so far, every day this week – yay!) and to connect more with others. However, rough edges mean we may scratch others a bit, so I think we also need to be patient; with ourselves and everyone else as we learn (through social modeling) how to be with others again.

The good news is, I think change is possible and likely to even be enjoyable.

At the bakery this morning, a young woman started a conversation with me (after seeing my excitement over the diversity of baked goods) where she noted several of her favorite items. Instead of backing away, I realized I needed to physically turn toward her, smile, and engage. I tried to be as warm as I possibly could and it felt right, like me, way back in early 2020. We had a wonderful interaction, I shared which one was my favorite item (the raspberry donut) and we delighted in how neither of us could likely make a bad choice, since everything was delicious.

As I was leaving the shop, it occurred to me to turn back and find her, so I could thank her for her recommendations. What neither of us knew at the time, I was also thanking her for engaging in social modeling. She seemed pleased to have the connection and in that moment, I knew two things; with practice, I could “people” again and the memory of March just got a little sweeter.