What if our response to coronavirus is not about social distancing?

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As an emergency physician on the frontlines of the battle against coronavirus, I have stood sentinel to see the transformations that are occurring in and out of the hospital. There are terms that now roll off our tongues that we didn’t know a month ago. “Social distancing” and “shelter-in-place” meant nothing to us as we rang in 2020. You know, the year that was going to be our year and the start of our decade? Now those who are demonstrating responsibility are hunkering down inside with all 40 kids under their roof, venturing out minimally or not at all. Date night has been reduced to grabbing food through a drive-thru because it ensures the required 6 feet of distance between humans. Touch has been reduced to at most a quick elbow bump; hugs with family and friends are the contact we anticipate returning in a few months.

As an introspective person, all of this talk of distancing and quarantine has me thinking: What is the lesson mankind is supposed to learn from this?

Author Richie Norton said, “Sometimes blessings come in ugly wrapping paper.” COVID-19 certainly qualifies as the unsightliest of decorations, but where is the gift in this plague?

Maybe our focus should not be on what we’re distancing from and no longer able to do, but, rather, on the people and places to which we are being made to draw closer. This pandemic has placed me in a position that when I’m not at work in the ER, I am at home with my wife and our boys. Rather than the distractions of going out to eat, sitting in a movie, or going to a trampoline park, we are inside painting watercolor, watching church online, practicing martial arts in the basement, and finding joy in getting Dad (and even Mom) to play games on the Xbox. There is nothing wrong with those other activities outside of the house when the time is right, but the blessing of the day is that I’m much more present where my feet are planted.

Getting closer to what’s important

Distancing from certain activities and places necessarily means drawing nearer to other spaces. What we do with our time reveals our priorities. Now, our options have been limited by business and school closures, cancelations of most events, and governmental restrictions. We are being forced to reprioritize. The less time I’m out and about, the more time I’m in with those I love the most. As my brain has been less occupied by all the items I once held as important, I have more attention to focus on my relationship with my family, friends, and God. I am creating space around the turmoil by meditating, praying, and journaling. Rather than pursuing crowded spaces, these have become my respite.

Develop gratitude

Another benefit I have found in the midst of the chaos is my need to keep gratitude at the forefront of my thought life. By maintaining a running tally in my mind of all the good around me, I am able to develop a positive outlook as I await the tsunami of destructive illness other countries report. You can do the same. Write them down. Rather than letting our minds remain focused on all the planned activities that will never come to fruition this spring and summer, we can instead set our sights on the gifts of rain, sunshine, and health that currently surround us. Gratitude is the antidote to misery. This is a habit we can develop now that can outlast the current crisis and continue to bless our lives.

Our priorities will change

I believe we will see a paradigm shift on the other side of this pandemic. We are beginning to realize that the world still revolves without packed stadiums surrounding sporting events. The daily activities of actors and actresses are significantly less important, and they are not the people dominating the news. We realize that waking up without a cough or difficulty breathing is a blessing that should be counted. Although there will be casualties, mankind will get through this like all other tragedies, and I think our values will be better aligned with our design. Rather than focusing on the losses we’re enduring because of social distancing, let’s appreciate the time we’re given to deepen our relationships with our family, friends, and God, develop a heart filled with gratitude, and focus on our personal growth through all of this.

What positive changes have you encountered during this time of rapid change? What is one shift in perspective you expect to see by fall?

Dee Bonney is an emergency physician and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dee Bonney.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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