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Hugs, Handshakes and High Fives

Normal, in person, social intercourse is punctuated by greetings and conversations.  Often those greetings are initiated by a handshake or a hug.  Successes in sports, academics and other contexts are celebrated by a “high five.”

With one government entity after another issuing shelter in place or stay at home orders, our ability to engage in normal social intercourse has been interrupted.  We have been isolated from one another for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the institutions through which we gather and engage with one another have been closed for two to six weeks, but in reality, although we do not want to hear it, those closures are until further notice.

Church buildings are closed, forcing the church to gather online.

I was at my own church this week assisting with recording elements of our online worship services.  I asked one of the pastors when he thought the congregation would feel comfortable enough to return to a normal worship gathering.  We both thought that even when the experts determine that it is safe to resume such gatherings, many will still be hesitant to return to what we thought was normal social interaction just a few short weeks ago…handshakes and hugs in the hallway as we greet one another.

Chris Queen wrote here yesterday that the 2020 college football season is in serious jeopardy…and that is still at least four months from now.  It is difficult to imagine authorities wanting thousands of people to be sitting hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder in crowded college football stadiums across the country.  I don’t know how we in the South will adapt to a world without football in the Southeastern conference.

Schools and colleges are closed for the rest of the year, forcing students into online learning environments.

Movie theaters are closed.  Release dates of new movies are being pushed back.

Concert venues are closed and performances have been cancelled or postponed.

Skating rinks, bowling alleys and similar venues are closed.

Even outdoor spaces like national parks (who ever believed that you cannot adequately maintain social distancing in the 800 square mile area of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park?) and urban trails are closed.

People want to know when we can go back to work, church and school.  People are hanging on to the hope that such a return will be sooner than later.  But currently, we have no such assurances.

Recently on ABC’s “This Week,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it is possible it will take “a few months” before life goes “back to normal” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Andrew Cuomo, was quoted in The Guardian on Wednesday that he thought Americans would be living with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for a long time to come. “I don’t think we get back to normal,” Cuomo said. “I think we get to a new normal.”

He did not define what he thought the “new normal” looks like.

Aristotle said long ago that

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

The Daily Mail reported on March 30 that according to social scientists, “the coronavirus pandemic could spell the end of hugging and handshakes for years to come.” How would Aristotle respond to that?

Being isolated from each other and society is not healthy. Being exposed to COVID-19 is presumably worse.  For now, normal social interaction and COVID-19 cannot peacefully coexist.  I wonder if we will be able to return to a time when hugs, handshakes and high fives are allowed again.  I wonder when we will once again be comfortable engaging in normal social intercourse.  Right now, it feels like it may never happen. Talk me off the ledge.


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