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The Year without Hugs

young man in a mask, isolated from hugs

2020 began with a shock for me. I learned that Mary Jo Ginty had died in her sleep December 29, 2019. A month later, I was among the friends and family who gathered in Long Beach to celebrate her life. I was grateful to be in a room with others who loved her. We shared our grief, our treasured memories, and a lot of hugs. My friend Michael Funk shared a story about how Mary Jo was not a hugger. She doled out hugs frugally. You had to earn them. I never got one, but I know she loved me as much as I loved her.

And then, almost overnight, hugs were off the table for everyone.

Nietzscheman blows out birthday candles alone in front of a computer wrote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” It wasn’t Kelly Clarkson. Thus far, I have survived the pandemic, but I don’t feel strengthened by it. I feel diminished. April 11 was my 59th birthday. On April 11, 2020, a month into the lockdown, I couldn’t have imagined I’d be spending another birthday in isolation. When I look in the mirror, I see a face that has aged more than a year. Not just because I haven’t had a haircut in 14 months. There is a sadness in my eyes that wasn’t there before.

It’s hard not to feel bone-weary by all that we have lost during this last year. Not only the loss of human life, but the collective loss of our human lives. We are a social species and we suffer when deprived of touch. It’s been over a year since I have experienced any physical gathering of human beings, except for the grocery store where I retract from anyone who gets too close. We have been made to fear one another. The lingering effects of mandated social distancing will be felt for years. Refusing to shake hands will no longer be considered phobic. We will be tolerant rather than suspicious of people who choose to wear masks in public for the rest of their lives.

I’m a natural introvert. I have a limited capacity for human interaction. I can only take so much before I feel fatigued. I recharge my batteries in solitude. But being a home body is far different than being under house arrest. I miss being around the people in the office who would enrich my spirit as they drained my social energy. Before the pandemic, I would share daily smiles, greetings, and impromptu chats with co-workers from different departments. But we don’t schedule Zoom meetings for that kind of thing. And when people do try to create virtual space for socializing it feels forced and awkward.

man is frustrated and worn out in front of laptopIt’s hard to be 59 right now. I have lived most of my life in the 20th Century. I was 35 before I started using a personal computer. Over my 30-year career in expanded learning, I have developed knowledge and expertise that has always given me the confidence to speak up when I think I have something to contribute. Now, it feels like I don’t even know how to raise my hand. People who have lived most of their lives in the 21st Century are moving at a pace that I’m struggling to match. It’s humbling to be the one person in the “room” who doesn’t get it, especially when you were once the guru. I find myself using the “age card” to passive-aggressively avoid learning new technologies in the vain hope we won’t need them once things go back to normal.

I suppose that is the hardest part of this for me. This notion that we are forever changed. When this all started, I believed it would be temporary. We were making accommodations for the lockdown that would be removed once the threat had passed. But we have lived through this long enough to become accustomed to a new normal. I prefer the old normal. I’m not as content as I used to be.

I’ve had it relatively easy. I didn’t get laid off. I haven’t faced the threat of eviction. I haven’t lost a close friend or relative to COVID. I want for none of the physiological needs identified by Abraham Maslow. During a natural disaster like this, we logically prioritize food, shelter, clothing, and safety. Anyone who can check those boxes should consider themselves fortunate. It’s that middle section of Maslow’s hierarchy, the psychological needs, that I’m lacking, and I feel guilty for lamenting their loss when compared to others who have lost so much more.

BOOST Leadership Team members hug at the BOOST ConferenceBut I must acknowledge these restrictions have hurt me in a way that affects my mood. I find it more difficult to experience joy. I hope this, at least, is temporary. As a lifelong San Diego Padres fan, I experienced a moment of true exaltation upon witnessing the first no-hitter in the franchise’s 52-year history. Once the adrenaline wore off, I recognized how long it had been since I felt that happy. And it brought me to tears.

Every time we see light at the end of the tunnel it seems to get longer, but this time it feels like we’re almost there. I can’t wait to see you all again in person, even if we end up doing that less than we used to. I miss the hugs.

For breakfast, I ate what I always eat because every day is the same, except when the Padres win.

Author: @steveamick

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