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Six Feet Apart Brings Us Together

The line wraps the building and snakes out into the parking lot past shipping boxes, yellow tape and parking berms. I stare for a moment, people donning medical masks, distances apart as if each one has the plague. Because yes, each one might have the plague.

Oh heck no, I’m not standing in this line, I think. Except this isn’t a busy day. It’s just a day. Sigh. I make my way to the end of the line, eyes peeking over masks giving me the you’re not better than us, so get in the back of the line look.

I see two strangers-turned-best-friends talk nonstop and trade phone numbers. The next guy stays 30 feet back from the woman in front of him, and I find myself willing him to scooch forward 18 feet. There’s entirely too much space between him and the next person. His space hoarding issue is making me anxious.

A month ago, the only appropriate location for a line this length is Disneyland. But never have I ever enjoyed so much personal space in this crowded Bay Area.

Marked spaces on the ground 6 feet apart show us where to stand. A woman in front of me goes rogue, 12 feet off her mark to the left. Get on your mark, I chastise her in my head. Apparently this matters to me. It’s a game now, and she’s breaking the rules.

With warm sun and a quiet breeze, I go rogue myself and breathe in spring without a mask. Probably mixed with COVID-19 germs.

We march like preschoolers square by square. I put on my mask when it’s my turn for entry, but I’m too eager. I skip to the door where the greeter reprimands my too-soon-false-start. Please stand back.

I slink back to my square of shame and wait patiently to be called. Soon I inch my way forward under the greeter’s coaching, and he hands me a wipe, which I promptly drop on the ground. And pick back up to wipe my hands and cart. I’m bad at this. This is my first pandemic.

But I’m in love with the spacious store as I choose my items in peace. I want this to last forever. What else can I shop for? I know better than to take more than 2 of each item. I learned that last time when items were revoked from my cart for being over the maximum count. But I have 3 boys, I whine to myself. Surely that counts for extra frozen pizzas. NOT.

Newly installed elephant-sized sneeze guards now separate me from the checker. Except directly behind me is another checker, sharing my air space. And my 6 foot square. Weird.

And what about gloves? Recently an EMT friend tells me the absurdity of wearing them. First, we walk into stores and touch all the things, go to the register and touch all the things, and then we reach into our pockets and purses and touch all the things and also text someone on our phone that we put to our face, and then we remove them as if satisfied we’ve avoided all germs.

So I quit the glove thing after one use. My hands on their own can spread germs for me like always. It’s fine.

I exit the store, pondering this new non-normal. It happened so fast, and I don’t really know how to be.

Here in the Bay Area, we just learned how to function without electricity for days at a time during fire season. Now we’re rationing toilet paper and cooking dinner 18 times a week. And I had to learn fifth grade math.

But here’s what I’ve also learned:

Humans are resilient and brilliant and meant for community. We’ll find our way.

We thrive in adversity. We become our best selves if we’re willing to.

I’ve laughed more, loved more, prayed more, played more, and found more freedom in lockdown than when the world was running off the rails.

When Jeff & I traveled to Russia, our missionary friends asked what we loved about their city of St. Petersburg. I loved the sense of togetherness I felt in this huge city, the warmth and safety in the midst of freezing cold crowds late at night. What was that?

Russians are known for their tough exterior, for being mean and miserable most of the time. Except when they come together for a greater cause than themselves.

During World War II, beautiful acts of selfless heroism occurred when the common Russian people came together to protect their city from the Nazi Regime. For 872 days, they fought to save their city, and because of the adversity they experienced, the beauty of the Russian soul emerged.

Decades later, I sensed that beauty underneath the layers of humanity, that beautiful Russian soul.

Today, I wonder about our coming together to fight our common enemy.

I want to be mad that my life has been upended and inconvenienced by a virus. Except I’m watching the beauty of humanity peeking out from behind their masks of independence and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps facades and showing what's really underneath.

Love and kindness are emerging, and I’ll choose to breathe that in all day every day.

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