The pandemic is bringing us home

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It began last week in our neighborhood, between the locals, who, out for a breath of fresh air, and dutifully in line with the new social distancing rules, began to shout back and forth through the crisp March air.

“Good morning! I hope you’re well!”

“Good morning! We’re well! I hope you are, too!”

Then goodwill took over the neighborhood email chain.

Who needs a casserole?

Just let us know! We’ll drop one off at the step!

And it continued this week in the ICU, where a collegial environment (albeit human) became rather familial. Doctors and nurses and administrators can keep to themselves, but this week we were all together at the daily pandemic meeting, looking at each other in the eye, talking back and forth, coming up with strategies, and emailing each other the latest data from the outside.

Then food appeared in abundance in the workroom. Everyone brought it in. Bagels and donuts and a homemade something with a handwritten note that said: “Try some!”

And later, we gathered in an empty ICU room, watching the latest briefing, and speaking softly amongst ourselves. And then there was the swapping of pictures of our kids back home. Do you have kids? How did I not know you had kids?!

We tossed out talk of work-life balance this week. Work, as it turns out, is a very meaningful part of life, filling these days with clarity. It’s just that it took a national emergency for us to realize it.

Then emotions ran high at the pandemic meeting the other day. What are we going to do if the state runs out of masks? And what if an employee is pregnant? And what on earth is going to happen in the next few weeks? A few in the group became tearful.

A senior, soft-spoken administrator stood at the front, carefully running the meeting. She answered each question thoughtfully until the room fell silent. And then she herself became very, very quiet, and she looked up at the room and said this: “I love you all very much.”

And this, I think, is where it starts: With affection for each other, affection for the people of our place, and affection for our place in particular. For this affection, over time, results in home-making, and the putting down of roots, and the fostering of neighborliness.

Our grandfathers were our last connection to the land. They told us stories of their grandfathers who farmed the family farms. When they finished the harvest at one place, they would move on to the next, for they continually worked together.

Now the migration to the suburbs is complete, the stories have faded, and we are siloed, they say. If we disagree, we mute each other with the click of a button. If we don’t like each other, we don’t talk face-to-face.

But the pandemic, you might say, in a small way, is bringing us home.

Nicholas Brennecke is a neurologist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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