Quaker Universalist Conversations

Loss of shared space: the second pandemic

Human beings are currently in a global struggle, not only with the coronavirus pandemic itself, but with the catastrophic disruptions of work and social life that social distancing and lockdowns have imposed upon us. This post was first published on The Empty Path on 4/16/2020.

What happens when much of the human race suddenly loses the safety of sharing physical space? Does this loss go deeper than the pandemic itself? How do we heal from this great social wound?

Most living people have never had to notice how essential the mutual sharing of physical space is—until now.

Worship, school, work, shopping, eating out, going to bars, restaurants, coffeehouses, sporting events, and on, and on. We social animals live and breathe these hours of visceral physical presence with each other. In essential, gut-level ways, we cannot be human without them.

Image of a closed coffeehouse with stacked chairs.Now what?

In the short term, those of us who are accustomed to communicating online have found venues for virtual gatherings: web conferencing, live video events in social media, etc.

Our brains are hardwired so that the mere sight of a face in real time minimally satisfies the need for a sense of presence with each other.

But, our brains are in bodies in the material world. And our bodies need more than that minimal sight on a screen in order to feel—to know in the blood—that we are really in the midst of other people.

When we begin to experience cabin fever and loneliness, when we start to feel more discouraged, disoriented, and cut off than fear of the disease itself can account for, might we be uncovering a deeper spiritual pandemic: the loss of shared space?

How do we transcend this much greater, potentially more fatal loss?

How do we stay connected?


Image Source

Pandemic coffeehouse,” by Mike Shell. Bold!Bean Coffee Roasters in Riverside, Jackonville, FL (4/16/2020).

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