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It’s all about relationships, especially in a pandemic

I write this sitting in a Hilton hotel room in what is known as “Med City,” Rochester, Minnesota. My wife Susie and I have been in this same room since February 6 when we arrived to enter the world-famous Mayo Clinic kidney transplant center. That amounts to nearly 60 days, isolated from most family and friends, and, like everyone else, sheltering-in-place for the last three weeks.

The good…scratch that…the great news is that Susie’s new kidney – she named it “Sydney” – is working magnificently. As I was not a match for her, we participated in the paired kidney exchange program. I donated my “spare” to a lovely woman in Florida.

When we chose to travel halfway across the country to this Emerald City of Medicine, we knew that being away from family and friends in Los Angeles would be tough. Thankfully our brother and sister traveled from Omaha to be our wonderful caregivers for a couple of weeks while we were both recuperating. But, for the most part, we have been alone.

It’s all about relationships, especially in a pandemic

Image by iStock

Yet, here’s the thing. We are hardly “alone.” We are surrounded daily by our kids and grandkids, our cousins, our friends, and our colleagues who call, who write, who send, who never let a day go by without letting us know how much they care for and love us. We cherish our relationships with all of them. But, since the pandemic hit American shores, something has changed. Not for us. For them.

Everyone else has joined us in this isolation, this sheltering-in-place experience, this weird feeling of being alone, and yet not at all alone.

What’s changed is the quality and quantity of the messages we are receiving about the life we are experiencing.

We all will go forward measuring our days in “A.C.” and “B.C.” time frames. Take, for instance, the emails we receive. In B.C., “Before Corona,” most of the emails we received were lovely, but short. After all, people were busy, running to work, driving carpools, shopping, entertaining, you name it.

I mean, it was wonderful just to get a brief “Hi, how are you guys doing?” Or, “Thinking of you!” And that was enough. It’s very comforting to know you are thought of, you are remembered. But, in A.C., many of the emails we get are long, detailed messages that remind us of the handwritten letters people would write before the Internet. What gives?

Actually, what corona has taken away — our terribly busy lives — has, ironically, given us something very special: time. Time to write a long email. Time to reach out to people we haven’t connected with in awhile. Time to forward a funny meme or a hilarious parody. Time to be in touch virtually…even when we cannot be physically.

There’s something else going on…and it has everything to do about the glue that binds us in relationship with one another. We have a deep need to share our stories…and if we cannot do it face-to-face, we write these detailed emails and posts or Zoom into each other’s lives. Sure, much of this has been fueled by social media for years, but doesn’t this feel different?

The difference now is that we are going through this alone…together. There has never been another time when virtually the entire world is experiencing the same isolation, the same concerns, the same fears, the same hopes that it will be over soon, please. This, of course, is another way we build relationships with each other – by sharing experiences. And ain’t this some experience…

And, finally, we are learning together. We are learning how to work online, how to order food online, how to celebrate on line, how to mourn online, how to worship online, how to learn online. We educators call this “experiential education.” We are not learning from textbooks or lectures; we are learning through the experience itself. Yes, we are going through this together. The question is: when we “get over” this, will we be different together?

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I hope so. I hope we learn how precious our relationships truly are, how much we must work to sustain them, how valuable they are to us particularly in times of trouble, as well as in times of joy.

I hope we will be different together in A.C. I hope we will take the time out of our hectic lives to write long emails, to share our stories, and to craft experiences that make being human together so magnificent.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. And stay connected.

Ron Wolfson is the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, author of Relational Judaism, and co-author of The Relational Judaism Handbook.

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