A View from Glen Hill: Be kind, love works

Stephen Hudspeth

Stephen Hudspeth

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

As you drive along Olmstead Hill Road eastbound from Ridgefield Road, you’ll pass a yellow house and barn sitting prominently along the north side of the road. It’s always interesting to see what banner will be hanging across the side of one of those large structures. Recently it’s been a large and beautiful banner bearing the legend, “Be Kind: Love Works.”

That’s a very simple yet profound statement and especially poignant in these times when direct contact with others, even close family members who don’t live with you, is wisely and necessarily prohibited. Isolation in that way is daunting, and as weeks drag into months, the burden of separation can become intense.

One of the great easers of that sense of isolation has been Zoom and its electronic relatives in the interactive video communications world. How fortunate we are to live in a time when such tools are available. While I enjoy watching programming that has been prerecorded and broadcast as a webinar, it’s never quite the same as the direct interaction of a live (albeit virtual) Zoom meeting.

We do Zoom meetings now regularly with both immediate family including our children and grandchildren and with extended family with many more present. The “Brady Bunch” number maximum on one Zoom screen (25) limits those gatherings with respect to ease of handling, but 25 works very well indeed even for our extended family gatherings. But whether it’s family gatherings or class time (with what I’ve now come to know as “synchronous learning”) or even church Zoom coffee hours, choir rehearsals and book studies, that kind of contact is very special!

They’re also other kinds of love-laced socially distanced interaction, like birthday-party car parades in front of the home of the celebrant or all-too-brief interactions with those wonderful Village Market folks who bring out to us seniors our groceries by the market’s side loading dock to save us the risks of closer contact. We wave to them and thank them profusely as they load our car trunks with food stuffs. Then we excitedly open those bags upon arrival home with some of the same excitement as a Christmas-morning present unwrapping: What was actually in stock that we ordered? Oh wow, everything! Even though it’s not always an “everything” response, it’s such a deeply appreciated service of kindness and one that greatly relieves anxiety for those in the most vulnerable age group.

Will we find it strange actually to be interacting face-to-face with each other when the time for social distancing and virtual contact ends? Or will we have become so inured to this form of interaction that we’ll now choose to “go virtual” far more than we ever expected in life? I’m glad to know we have this vibrant virtual resource available, and it certainly powerfully enables working from home; but I hope its use does not routinely substitute for face-to-face interaction. Yet looking back, how many of us even a decade ago would have imagined how much of our lives and time would turn to the virtual? Have we in fact been social distancing for much longer than we realized, and so this period of forced social distancing has now brought home to us just how unfortunate that can be and how disconnected many parts of our lives have become?

I noticed long before the coronavirus crisis that a conversation with anyone substantially younger than me would, more often than not, be intruded upon, at least with loss of eye contact, by some electronic device or other in the hands of my interlocutor. Maybe now we’ll appreciate that face-to-face and sustained interaction has real value and that it is to be more highly prized than sneaking a peek — or more — at that handheld device. Yet the device’s ever-seductive, come-hither appeal and the compulsion it creates in us just to respond to that “one quick thing” is the true siren call of our times. It implores us to engage virtually and enables us to do so with just about anyone, anywhere.

How extraordinary that is, yet how distancing from those who are standing right beside us! Maybe one message of this time of confinement is just how much we need to establish a golden mean between the two. For Odysseus there was no golden mean: he could only resist the Sirens’ call by chaining himself to his ship’s mast to prevent the Sirens from having their way with him. Hopefully, we can find a less binding way to achieve that same result.