Pandemic Pals

Okay, so we’re all tired of hearing anything ‘pandemic.’ It has been an incredibly challenging and confusing year. 2020 was a great big mess for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because we had to learn ‘social distancing.’ We were advised to stay away from others who were not part of our immediate living situation. Grandparents did not get to see their grandchildren. Family gatherings were cancelled. Going out with friends for a few drinks was a memory. Having a cup of coffee and conversation was limited. We all had to learn a new kind of isolation.

Truth be told, distancing is distressing. It’s not just that we are not carrying on family traditions or continuing congenial conversations—it is that we felt in some sense that life was coming unraveled. All the little connecting points that kept us together were suddenly unglued. Little routines of relationship were altered or abandoned. It is not too much to say that many of us were hanging by a thread. Or maybe we were at the end of our rope. Or some other claim that perhaps we were not going to keep it altogether.

But something else happened. Through social and technological capabilities there were some friendships that were rediscovered. With lots of time on my hands and a computer in my lap, I started making connections with some people who I have not seen in years.

I have to admit my hesitancy with all of this in the beginning. I tend to do a lot of planning and projecting. Too many relationships from former seasons of life did not feel as if they could be profitable. How many of these folks would I see again in the coming year? How many of these people had outgrown our younger attitudes and actions? What would I have to say to someone I had not seen in decades? From a purely transactional point of view it didn’t make lots of sense to think about reconnecting. You cannot drive forward if you’re stuck looking at the rearview mirror. Most of us wanted to move forward, even if that meant getting back to normal.

But I am not just a transactional person. Indeed, we have seen too much that was just transactional in the recent past. We long for something transformative. We want people in our lives that are more than just functional. We want to mean something to others and we want to have them mean something to us. It’s not just what we can do for one another—we learned a lot about who does what in the midst of the pandemic. It is also vitally important that we learn who we are, and that is not something we do in isolation.

I’m calling them ‘pandemic pals,’ right now. Many of them were good friends in times past. Some of them shared important moments in my life. Some of them were part of the large groups of things like a graduating class. All of them played some part in shaping my youth, which, of course, also shapes my present.

I had the joy of having a long leisurely phone conversation with someone I had not seen in years. We talked about all that had gone on in that time—marriage, kids, education, work, relationships, moves, loss—you know—life. It felt like we’d not skipped a beat. It was easy and enjoyable. It was a delight for us both, I believe. Our friendship was still vibrant and vital even with a large chunk of missing years. Our connection was still tight. There will be more phone calls and connections in the days to come, and we’re both looking forward to those.

My list of connections has grown with the additions of others who have ‘found me’ during these days of social distancing. Not sure those would have happened otherwise.

 So the pandemic made me look around and look back and look inside a bit to see who was available for connection. Quarantine and distance and being ‘safer at home’ have all made us reevaluate the relationships in our lives. Some have found it a taxing situation and have had their relationships deteriorate, even leading to divorce in some situations I’ve heard. Some have built better bonds with family through more time together than they perhaps ever imagined. Some have become more isolated. But for me it has been a time of finding and being found, a time of recollection and reconnection.

As we get ready for reentry into some sense of normalcy, I find a larger circle of pandemic pals that may not have been there otherwise. As someone wisely said, “you can’t make new old friends.” So true!

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