I’ve been thinking about what love has meant to me in the first 47 years of my life. Signs of affection and respect meant hugs and handshakes, respectively. It meant being close to people – placing an arm around someone or a pat on the back when they’ve needed extra encouragement.
As a pastor and because of appropriate boundaries, there are firmer boundaries when it comes to expressing care to those in our congregation. Holding the hand of someone who is struggling, placing a hand on the shoulder, giving a congregant a handshake, and, if they initiated, maybe a slight hug would have been in the boundaries. But none of these are in the bounds of appropriate contact anymore.
Now, love and care must be expressed differently. Love no longer includes sharing hugs and handshakes with the ones we care about. We can’t share these acts of affection at church or with family. Even someone like me who keeps firm boundaries with many can’t hold the hand of someone struggling with intense grief.
And that is mind-blowing to our twenty-first century brains.
How can we rewire our brains to affirm that staying away means love? How can we reframe the whole concept of physical touching and close proximity as a negative approach to loving our friends and neighbors? Of course, the very closest people to us we will probably always give hugs. But this won’t be common as we welcome our professional contacts and friends.
Each time I watch Pride and Prejudice (the 1995 version with Colin Firth, of course), I’m intrigued by the way they would greet one another. There wouldn’t be many handshakes and definitely no hugging. But they would bow and curtsy when greeting another person. It seemed formal, yet in today’s world, this would be in the scope of what could be allowed.
So whether we decide to bow or curtsy, place our hands over our hearts or give a peace sign, we need to work on embracing our fondness and respect for people from afar. We are called to accept this opposite-concept in the next year or two as we begin to emerge from our quarantine cocoons and wait for a vaccine or new treatments to COVID-19. Close physical distance no longer means love. We are turning everything we know about welcoming and hospitality on it heads. Yet maybe by loving from afar, we will save lives. We will attempt to keep the ones we love well. We will discover what are the most important ways to express love and concern. And by doing so, we remain healthy too.