We are hardwired to be with others. Sure there are times when people drive us crazy and solitude can be a replenishing gift, but deep within us is a basic need for contact. So many of us are finding the practice of social isolating to be taxing.
I grew up in a large family with four siblings and that busy household with its crowded station wagon and noisy dinner table, was the terra firma of my upbringing. Surrounded by others, there was always something going on, the sounds of life all around, and like the air we breathe it went largely unnoticed. Until it wasn’t there.
When I was somewhere around seven there was a Saturday morning when I woke to a nearly empty house. Everyone was gone except for mom, and she was busy in her sewing room. I remember being at sixes and sevens, not knowing what to do with myself. I half-heartedly played with my GI Joe, ran my Hot Wheels through a couple of loops. Eventually, I went into the back yard, trying to find some way to fill the void of my obnoxious sisters and perpetually tormenting brother.
About that time a friend of my brother came by looking for him. When I told him he wasn’t home he asked if I wanted to do something. I didn’t really like John’s friend, but beggars can’t be choosers, so we soon found ourselves in the basement where Jimmy set about burning things in our old, abandoned coal furnace. I entertained myself by drilling a series of holes in my dad’s workbench.
Eventually, Jimmy got bored and went on his way and I went back outside and began fidgeting with my dad’s new Hasty Bake grill. It had a crank you turned to raise and lower the grates and I pretended it was an old crank-start car until the grate came off the crank threads with an ominous thunk. It was about then I heard mom call from the basement, “Thomas Hart, you get down here.”
It was never a good thing when mom called me Thomas, and I knew she had discovered the remains of Pyro-Jimmy’s little fire. We, of course, were forbidden to play with matches and when I schlepped into the basement my mom let me have it and I was sent to my room. But that wasn’t the end of it. Soon mom was at my door with dad’s drill and without a word, she delivered a swat on my backside and walked out.
Sometime later I heard my sisters come home, but their noise was on the other side of the door, which made my confinement more painful than my swatted rump but in due time my sentence was served and I was released to hard labor in the laundry room. My assignment was to clean the mouse cage. That was a weekly chore we all shared and it wasn’t my turn but since my little sister was hanging around I conned he into helping. I asked her to watch the mice and while she protested at first she soon was happily engaged in a corner while I scooped the cedar shavings into the floor drain.
After I had added fresh shavings, nesting lent and food to the cage I went to the corner sink to fill the water bottle. To my horror, Sarah had the sink half-filled and was laughing joyfully at the mice trying to scramble up the porcelain sided. I pushed her away and angrily snatched up the mice, telling her she probably killed them, to which she burst into tears and ran to mom crying, “He told me to wash his mice!”
I was soon back in my room, staring at the slates on my brother’s bunk. I could hear my sisters playing in the room next door and I wondered if there had ever been a worse day.
I didn’t know my dad was home until I heard him yelling from the bottom of the stairs, “Thomas Carlyle Hart, get down here right now!” So I got up and went downstairs and then down into the basement where I discovered dad standing in a flood of laundry water that couldn’t get down the shaving clogged floor drain. After a long time of unclogging, mopping and cleaning I was back on my bed, this time without dinner. And the thing I remember most clearly about that whole day was the sound of my family downstairs in the dining room and the desperate desire to be with them.
It is critical that in this present time we self-isolate. The health of our community demands it. And while I don’t like it and wouldn’t do otherwise. And part of what makes this isolation OK is the reality that we are separated but not alone. Christ promises that we will never be left alone and gives us a companion, the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit exists in our midst and connects us to each other. It is as real as a phone call to a friend, a simple card dropped in the mail, a text, a prayer, a package of tortillas left at the door.
We are hardwired to be with others, even when we are physically apart. It is a gift from God, so remember that truth as we find refreshing ways to connect with each other.