Distancing Together

Written by Leslie Criss

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

On a muggy-like-Mississippi, overcast Saturday in June 2010, my friend Cheryl and I walked from our hotel to Central Park’s East Meadow. It would be my first time to attend the Mississippi Picnic, started nearly 30 years earlier by native Mississippians who later made their homes in New York City.

That day we visited with Mississippi artists, met journalist and fellow Mississippian Robin Roberts, drank sweet tea and sat under a giant and wondrous shade tree with new friends who shared fried chicken and other Southern staples with us.

Today, that lush green space where New Yorkers, Mississippians and countless others gathered is the site of a 68-bed emergency field hospital for those seriously ill with COVID-19, the coronavirus.

How long has it been since the world as we knew it began to change, thanks to this global pandemic that is diminishing the population of countries, states, cities, neighborhoods, nursing homes and families on a daily basis?

How many days have passed since whatever we each knew as normal turned into something surreal and frightening?

How can we answer those questions when keeping up with what day it is seems an exercise in futility?

And yet through these lengthy days there have been amazing stories of humanity in action — right here in northeast Mississippi and in all manner of places far and away.

These are the times when heroes aplenty are born, especially if you believe in French novelist Romain Rolland’s definition: “A hero is someone who does what he/she can.”

There are, then, heroes by the hundreds — those who’ve worked round the clock keeping store shelves stocked, checking out and bagging our groceries, delivering groceries curbside or to homes; health care workers who’ve put their own health and lives on the line to care for others, those whose responsibility inside our hospitals is to render them clean and safe; truck drivers who’ve delivered personal protective equipment to hospitals and supplies to our grocery stores; those who’ve worked to see that kids out of school have continued to have lunch; restaurant owners and workers who’ve stayed open for curbside service and pickup, giving us all a break from our kitchens from time to time.

Our teachers, who are learning a whole new way of connecting daily with students. And those students, who are rising to the occasion. So, too, are the parents who have had to become teaching assistants at home.

Our ministers of all faiths who’ve encouraged their congregations to worship from the safety of home and who’ve found new and creative ways to feed our spirits during this quarantine.

Emergency personnel of every persuasion — firefighters, law enforcement, EMTs, dispatchers — whose work cannot stop no matter the situation.

City, county and state officials who’ve shown they value the sanctity of human life above all else.

And there are the artistic heroes who have nourished our souls with all manner of music from their homes, from building balconies, garage studios and various other venues. Whether they realize it or not, their random repertoires, watched on television or through our computers and phones, often came at just the right moment during quarantine and offered us life-affirming lyrics, melodies and a sense of connection that have kept us going.

In future times when the arts are threatened with annihilation, I hope we will remember they helped save us in these times.

I pray for a day when this time of quarantine and social distancing will simply be a collective memory we share.

I hope for a time when often-taken-for-granted hugs from friends and loved ones will be safe again and offered in abundance.

That time, for me, cannot come soon enough.

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