Did any of the weird protective actions we took work? Does it matter?

This week, I hosted book club. In my house.

I was supposed to host in December, but I had a sore throat, Omicron was pawing around outside, and so I suggested we postpone… I could have held it via zoom, I’d done that when it was my turn last year, but in our club, the host makes dinner and I’d enjoyed a summer worth of beautiful meals and it seemed like a scam to shift to virtual, like I’d be dodging an important contribution to host a discussion without treats. So we postponed, and this week, 6 friends came into my house for dinner and catch-up.

I can no longer assess if this is safe or reckless. I just lick my finger hold it up to the wind and try to sense if a storm is nearby. Out there, someone is monitoring ICU beds and wastewater, and suggesting the peak has passed. Out there, someone is navigating the terrible balancing act of all the needs, all the knowns, all the unknowns, to keep this wobbly-wheeled machine of our economy on the road. 

And while trying to come up with a recipe that could easily serve 8, after cooking for three for approximately 700 days in a row, I started thinking about all the things we’ve done to navigate this time, to balance the needs of both connection and non-contagion, mostly blind to the actual precise risk for us because the thing we’re trying to avoid catching or disseminating is invisible.

So, in lieu of regular monthly meetings, this little group has paused, postponed, met on zoom, not bothered, done things like serving everyone individual bowls of chips in an unheated crawl space while we sat on chairs 3 feet apart, hosted outside on the deck around a lovely table pretending we lived in New York in the 20s, or just said, blow it, it’s September and we’re all vaccinated, let’s hug. (Or half of us hugged because we were part of each other’s bubbles, and half of us (me) did not and everyone said, no worries, do what you have to do to be comfortable.)

It’s been an interesting, but beautiful experience, being part of this group, for which I am immensely grateful. We’re very different people – that is apparent when we discuss a book – it’s rare that a read is universally acclaimed amongst these 10 – and everyone has different jobs, family, circumstances… but whenever I’ve said, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable. I don’t even know if I’m uncomfortable, I just don’t know if it’s okay to be comfortable” – about hugging someone hello, or about hosting people in November, or about joining the group indoors – everyone has said, “that’s fine. Thanks for saying how you’re feeling.” Everyone has respected that. Even if they didn’t agree or thought it was over the top, no-one said anything. They just said, whatever you need.

Did we keep each other safe by sitting two feet apart and bringing our own glasses and eating from individual bowls instead of a shared platter? Who knows. Did we keep each other safe by not meeting in December in planned, and waiting until mid February? Who knows. Did I keep my friends safe by only skiing with them, and wearing a mask on the gondola but taking it off to drink tea and eat food at the Roundhouse? Who knows. But I think, in some ways, what matters most, through all the absurdity of it, is that we cared. We wanted to. Our driving goal was to balance our need for connection, with our care to keep each other safe. It’s an interesting tension, and it’s a fraught one. And I think we can feel the power of the pull between those things now, more than ever… 

Without connection, we are very unstable humans. We need witnesses. We need other nervous systems around us, to help us regulate. We need physical contact. We need facial contact. We are wired for this, for love and belonging. We are held accountable by each other. We are lifted up by each other. We exist in relationship. Out of relationship, we are kind of half beings… we’re embodied, but not encircled. We start to become disconnected.

I’ve tried to find these things in other ways – online meditation class, zoom buddy groups, ski days. But was it ever nourishing to my bones to be able to gather around a table, share a meal, and talk. We didn’t have to agree on everything. We never do. But we are aligned around the truth that we care – less about being right, than about being part of something.

I wonder if this same energy motivates the people whose current actions I strenuously disagree with. I wonder if, at the end of the day, we’re all trying to find our way towards the same thing.

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