I was so happy to see him, I leapt out of my car and into his arms. My COVID-free dear friend, similarly cautious and decidedly safe to greet with a warm spontaneous hug. A heartfelt, less-than-six-feet apart, old fashioned HUG.
And then, it happened. In what was a mere instant of a momentary embrace, I felt my cheek brush up ever so slightly against something I have not experienced in a very long time.
I lunged backward letting out an involuntary audible gasp, as if experiencing this sensation for the very first time. Or at least, appreciating it for the very first time.
Skin. The warm, tender flesh of a friend. Experienced on the warm, tender flesh of MY face. During a warm, tender friendly embrace.
Interpersonal physical contact, with a friend.
A happening that struck me as both glorious and tragic, for the magnitude of an event that underscored the depth of the void, being experienced by us all. As we round the corner and head into month six of this decidedly challenging, emotionally altered, inhumane interpersonal COVID reality.
Before COVID, I was surrounded everyday by a close-knit group of warm and affectionate fellow clinicians within my treatment center. A team of women so cohesive and so strong that we refer to ourselves as “family.”
Within this professional “home,” we oftentimes laughed together, sometimes cried together, and frequently hugged each other as a caring and spontaneous display of interpersonal support. A natural reflex that illustrated a level of emotional affection for one another.
Frequently after work, I would go out to dinner with close friends and like-minded colleagues who provided gentle support, including warm hugs hello and appreciative hugs good-bye. Enthusiastic displays that reflected the emotional depth experienced within our friendship. Manifested in the form of physical touch. Embracement. Gentle and caring contact, with another.
I was sickened recently as I read an article stating that 25 percent of our young adult population, aged 18-24, are now experiencing serious suicidal thoughts as they grapple through the pandemic. A significant and tragic increase, being sadly mirrored amongst older populations, with 11 percent of older adults similarly stating that they have seriously contemplated suicide in the past 30 days.
Even more unsettling is that these numbers are even higher within our Hispanic and Black populations, with an alarming 19 percent and 15 percent, respectively, expressing that they have considered committing suicide in the past 30 days.
With no end in sight.
We NEED people. We NEED contact. We NEED physicality, touch, close physical proximity that allows us to FEEL connected in ways that helps us to cope, withstand, feel supported, and receive love.
In other words, which doesn’t leave us feeling ALONE.
As I personally work to reconcile with the undeniable reality that we are moving into what appears to be a much longer than desired COVID pandemic, I am committed to exploring how I can personally safeguard and protect my loved ones and family and continue to work responsibly to thwart further spread of this terrible COVID-19 virus, while connecting safely with those I cherish – and need.
Is this balance possible? I believe anything is possible. Especially, when your Soul depends on it.
What will I be doing today? Likely planning an outdoor walk with a COVID-safe friend, where I can at least see their face and hear their laugh, in person. Socially distanced, completely responsible. But emotionally and physically, safely CONNECTED.
It will do my heart good.