After writing Cancel Culture 1 and 2, I have been thinking more on this subject. It seems that violent speech and action are ever more increasing. (See Cancel Culture, Cancel Culture 2) What are we to do?
In Cancel culture 1 I spoke of the dynamics of “canceling someone”: Shaming, Stonewalling, Snubbing. It is to our shame that we know these too well. Remember the book “All I Really need to know I learned in Kindergarten?” Doesn’t it seem that this behavior was learned early in life? Are we no better as adults than we were in Kindergarten? I read books to our 7 year old granddaughter about how to deal with bullies and rumors. The American Girl “Smart Girl” series has helped greatly:
A Smart Girl’s Guide: Friendship Troubles (Revised): Dealing with fights, being left out & the whole popularity thing (American Girl: a Smart Girl’s Guide)
I began this series when she was 5. It saddens me greatly that this is the world that she—that WE—live in.
A Deeper Problem
And yet: isn’t that deep seated niggling in the back of our mind clear evidence that we have a bigger problem than Kindergarten? or Adolescent Misbehavior?
Scripture is clear and will forever be so: Romans 3:22-24. For there is no distinction; 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
We can all be reduced, it seems, to children behaving badly. We can all be reduced to defending ourselves at the expense of hurting others.
A very old cartoon character spoke to this eloquently and succinctly: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Scripture is clear from Genesis through Revelation. Left to our own devices, we turn towards the worst—to sin. We are in desperate need of a Savior.
Romans 5:6 6 While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Jerry Bridges: Your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace; your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.
One of my favorite quotes was used by my brother, H. Keith Lippincott, and was on his desk:
I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or deescalated, And a person humanized or dehumanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they out to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming. Goethe
There is a Whiffle Ball Tournament going on around the corner. This might not be notable on any other hot day of the summer, but this summer is different. This is a COVID summer. And sports are off limits.
Not to be deterred, a group of young men got together and formed the CWA: The Cimino Whiffle Ball Association. This is nothing new for these guys. They went to high school together in Atco and Blackwood, NJ. The brothers and cousins began playing whiffle ball when they were 6-7 yrs. old. Then they added corn hole, and eventually, they played football in high school. Friends were added into the mix. They connect together on Snapchat on Sunday evenings.
This began as a family affair. The Cimino sisters lived in Atco—Jacqueline, Karen, and Gabrielle. Close knit as a family, they played sports together and did the things that bind us together. One member of the family, Joe Tripoli moved to Ambler several years ago. There happened to be an empty lot next to his house. Now, that lot could have been sold. But Joe knew a good thing when he saw it: a field in the making.
Field of Dreams
I remember it being full of weeds and tall grass years ago. But over the past few years, it was mowed. Then a stone driveway was laid. This past Spring I noticed tall yellow poles to mark foul balls. Then came a backboard. And a scoreboard. And “Sponsors” logos were added: Mountain Dew. Flood lights were placed. Umbrellas were added, as well as seating for the teams.
A “Field of Dreams” was in the making.
Just yesterday Joe added chalk lines to mark off the official measurements for a whiffle ball field. If you are going to play the game, play it right. They have teams of 3 people. Each game is 3 innings, and there is a 5 game series. Today, the 1st cede team played the 3rd. And the teams?
The Boss brothers, Hot brothers, and Cool brothers. They have their own team shirts, numbers, and even a Commissioner.
The sidelines are a grouping of Moms, sisters, littles, and the grandfather of all of them: Gabriel. Can you imagine the pride Grandpa feels as he watches these young men take the field?
These young college students are varied: Joe Jr. is 21 and attends Penn State Main Campus. On my “interview” with him he explained that he is studying science. Many science courses later, he has landed on a passion: Physics. He explained that as he pitches, he understands the velocity, the wind movement, and the curve. It has a direct application to life. And a good solid hit? Physics come together for a home run.
Orlando, Matt, Jake, Biagio (Italian for Benjamin), Dalton, Luke, and Brando round out the teams.
It is 90 here today, with high humidity. The game goes on. I was warmly welcomed by Jackie, Joe’s wife. I asked her about the field and mentioned the large azaleas that seemed to be blocking 1st base. “I love the field! And I love that the kids play here! But those azaleas? They are my heirloom azaleas. They have to stay!”
First hotdogs were on the grill. Then hamburgers were being handed out. Next came Gatorade and water, and finally refreshing ice pops.
The details count. I was getting ready to walk over when I heard strains of singing. The Star Spangled Banner was being sung by Bianca. She did a beautiful job. As I came upon the field, I was welcomed warmly by Biagio. He manned the announcement table, just behind home plate. They had heard that I was coming, and were excited to meet me. But as most things that are fun, this began to spin out of control. He asked if he could announce my arrival:
“Hello fans, and welcome to Cynthia, from the Ambler Gazette.” That got a lot of attention, but it is not true. I had told Joe that I wanted to write a blog about this event Not to be discouraged, the next announcement came: “Welcome to Cynthia, who is here from Fox News.”
“Welcome to Cynthia, here to cover the tournament.” And as a plane flew over, “Thank you for Cynthia for arranging a fly over.” And as I walked towards my home, “Thank you for Cynthia a great woman.”
Play by Play from the Press Booth
What is a game without a great play by play? Each batter had their own walk up music.
Biagio outdid himself:
“The tension continues to build between these brothers….” “Ouch—that pitch hit on the left “cheek”….that’s gonna leave a mark.”
“That ball is in the azalea bush!” (And an aside: Is that 1 or 2 bases?) “That ball is gone! A grand slam! And it’s over the Green Monster!” (The backfield wall)
“Orlando here has won for best shoes in the league….over 120. These are camouflage pattern. Orlando, can you speak to the chances of your winning?”
Orlando, wisely responded: “No comment until we hoist the trophy.”
And finally bantering back and forth with Joe Sr.: “One whiffle ball in the hand is worth two in the bush…..What does that even mean???”
I am not a fan of baseball, but even I recognized Matt imitating a combination of Harry Kalas and Merrill Reese.
Baseball, hot dogs, Apple pie and Chevrolet
The most famous use of “baseball, hot dogs and apple pie” was as a jingle in a 1974 Chevrolet commercial. It’s definitely a catchy tune! A commercial made well before these kids entered the world. But today, during COVID, baseball never started.
And so in this season, perhaps the Cimino Whiffleball Tournament takes on new meaning. The things that tie us together are not really baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and cars. It is the stuff of family. The stuff of friendship.
The Field of Dreams and Kids
This entire field is somewhat surreal. Located in Ambler, it is used by the neighborhood kids. Then a tournament happens. I asked Joe why he did it? Why did he build a field?
Was it for the love of the game? His simple, poignant answer: “No, it is for the love of my kids.” There you have it.
Tomorrow at 12 noon is the playoff. If you should happen by Joe and Jackie’s home on Belmont Ave in Ambler, they will warmly welcome you. They will give you a water or gatorade. The guys will cheer on each other and give a High Five. The fans will cheer as the guys run the bases. COVID has no hold on this.
My most recent blog addressed the current “Cancel Culture.” I think we’d all agree that our culture is being warped and twisted by the current events around us. But if we look more closely, we will find that “there really is nothing new under the sun.” There have been World Wars, Spanish flu, Depressions, and so much more.
Is our current culture—and the reactions we see—that much different?
Cancel the Person
A recent article from Abdu Murray, The Gospel Coalition addresses this well:
“It was once the case that differing opinions—including ones that challenge culturally approved mores—were debated with facts and sound argumentation. Now when a person does or says something that runs afoul of current cultural preferences, we cancel that person. We shut her down with names, epithets, and ad hominem attacks. If she’s a musician, we call for boycotts of her music. If she’s an athlete, we delight in burning her jersey and posting the bonfire on social media. We now hoist the socially guilty onto a pike for all to see as they writhe, justly deserving what they get for having offended the collective. Be warned: we won’t engage your ideas; we will engage you and shame you out of existence. You will be canceled.” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/canceled-understanding-eastern-honor-shame/
If I can label you, I can dehumanize you. I put you into a small box with my understanding of what that particular label stands for—and usually I’m wrong. But in our feeble attempt to understand others, we marginalize them. We reduce them and isolate them. We trivialize them and their ideas and cut off discussion. Alienation ensues and is followed by discrimination. This is the work of judgement.
And this is a slippery slope.
One of my favorite teaching tools is Youtube. And a Similac commercial in particular shows many Moms (AND, ahem, Dads) taking care of their young children at the park. They look down their nose at the other groups, assuming, KNOWING that their way is best. From how the baby is fed, to how they sleep, and how they are diapered? There is a group for that. And the groups feel content and secure as they judge the others….until disaster strikes.
Our own Devices
Left to our own devices, this slippery slope and labeling would be a sad world indeed. The only true hope lies in Jesus Christ.
Borrowing from Murray’s article: “In cancel culture, a single mistake is perpetually unforgivable because it’s not simply a guilty act. Rather, the mistake defines the individual’s identity, turning them into a shameful person—someone who can be “canceled.” How Eastern! Juliet November summed up what used to be the differences between Western and Eastern cultures: In a Western framework, I would feel guilty because I have “done something bad”; in an Eastern honor-shame framework, I would be guilty because “I am bad” in society’s eyes. Becoming someone bad means that redemption doesn’t come by fixing the mistake. An apology isn’t enough.”
The Root of the Problem
Our problem goes far deeper than judging others. Do we realize in our judgements and in our labels, we also condemn ourselves?
Matthew 7:3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
James 2:1,9-10,12-13 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Mercy Triumphs over Judgement
And there we have it. Because we have been redeemed and bought by the blood of the Lamb, we ourselves have been shown mercy. And mercy triumphs over judgement.
What does this look like?
Deuteronomy 30:19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
We have choices every day. What would it be like to choose life for ourselves, and for others? To bless rather than to curse?
Again, from Murray: “Where others would respond to our shame with indignation, Jesus responds with love, forgiveness, and grace. Many are searching for a recovered or even redeemed identity. The culture will not give it to them. But Jesus can.”
Are we looking for a Kumbayah moment here, where we hold hands and sway around a fire pit? No. The Cross was far too costly.
Grace & Dialogue
But what if we dialogued with others, honoring them above ourselves? What if we searched them out to ask their opinions and why they felt that way? Grace has been described as giving others what they don’t deserve. What if we came from our separate corners in the ring, together, and took off our gloves? Would families and workplaces be transformed?
Abraham Lincoln gave his 1st Inaugural Address on March 4, 1861. The nation was torn at that time, but he appealed to us:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Can we appeal to the better angels of our nature in times now? Can we show grace and mercy to those around us, and to those who think differently than ourselves?
These are strange times in which we live. 2020 will be remembered for many things: COVID, protests and discourse, and “Cancel Culture.” Every year seems to add new terminology to our lexicon. This new term has been around for awhile, but with new meanings and applications.
Understand, reader. I am not offering debate and dialogue. Instead, I am offering what I observe as I watch the culture.
So what is this? Here is one definition: “Cancel Culture is the phenomenon by which people or entities are publicly boycotted or divested from because of callous words, actions or ideas they have promoted, or have been associated with.”
This involves harassment and shame: Online shaming is a form of public shaming in which targets are publicly humiliated on the internet, via social media platforms (e.g. Twitter or Facebook), or more localized media (e.g. email groups) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_shaming#Cancelation
“Callout culture” describes a form of boycott in which an individual (usually a celebrity) who has acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner is boycotted. This happened to JK Rowling, writer of the Harry Potter series, when she made controversial statements.
We find it in our culture: celebrities, authors, politicians, TV shows, boycotts on companies. Statues and monuments. And even us. “Harper’s magazine has published a letter July 7 in defense of free speech signed by more than 150 public intellectuals, which has already fallen victim to the kind of virtual mob-rule that it decries. Ironically, a number of signatories have asked that their names be removed after either being attacked for having signed or learning the names of other, presumably intolerable, signatories.” https://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/canceled-by-the-cancel-culture
What we are seeing now is a culture of fear. Dissenters have the power to ostracize you. Perhaps we can accept this dynamic. But now, they have the power to have you fired.
In one very sad case, a 16 yr old was sharing memories of her father, a policeman, who was ambushed and killed in a domestic violence call. It was one way for her to give voice to her grief. But the daughter of slain McAllen Police Officer Ismael Chavez was attacked on social media by anti-police critics for posting a heartfelt tribute to her murdered father.
A friend of mine on Facebook posts her political beliefs. She is regularly slandered and called horrible names. “Shut up, you’re so brain washed!” “Did you take your pills today, dear?” These are, of course, the only ones I can print here.
And just today, another friend has changed her name on FB because she accidentally responded to someone using the wrong gender. (Chris can be female or male, correct?) It was an honest mistake, and she apologized. But the backlash she received on social media was not worth it.
Is this what we have come to? Is this the best we can be? Truly, this behavior is not new. Throughout time we’ve used many methods to diminish others: Here is a beginning laundry list of “people behaving badly.”
Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. It includes physical, verbal, relational and cyber-bullying. And it is not limited to school age children. We see it everywhere around us.
Shunning is the act of deliberately avoiding association with, and habitually keeping away from an individual or group. Think of the Amish.
Snubbing is to rebuff, ignore, or spurn disdainfully.
Stonewalling is a persistent refusal to communicate or to express emotions. It is common during conflicts, when people may stonewall in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable conversations or out of fear that engaging in an emotional discussion will result in a fight.You might know it by another name: ‘the silent treatment’ maybe, or ‘freezing’ someone out’. It can involve one person saying ‘I’m fine’ even though something is clearly wrong, or simply refusing to speak at all. As a counselor, I’ve described it as “a sanitized form of murder.”
Shaming is to publicly humiliate or shame for being or doing something specific. In Pandemic times? Shaming has become rampant. From having a party in our backyard, to going to the Jersey shore: “We get this image of half a country having a party that most of us are not doing,” Tangney said. “It’s natural to become angry and also be afraid and to want to shame people, because we believe if we shame them, they’ll stop doing this bad thing. But unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.” https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/us/pandemic-shaming-wellness-trnd/index.html
Time after Time….. As I write these things, it takes me back to Junior High. Those were hard days. Fear reigned and the pack mentality was always present. Where do I belong in this pack? Am I accepted for who I am?
If I make a statement that is not in the general consensus, will I be shunned or humiliated? I remember well giving a public address in my English class–perhaps 1965. I presented my case. I don’t remember how the class responded. I DO remember that the teacher began to berate me, my viewpoints, and position. She even berated my clothes, stating that it was in keeping with my position. Clearly, my stance was not the status-quo.
Or maybe NOT so far back. In my working life, if I entered the room, there might be a certain “frosty” reception. People might not look up from their desk. No “Good morning.” In reading body language and lack of interaction, I knew I was in trouble. It was only a matter of time, or putting my ear to the ground to the rumor mill, to find out the issue.
And in the church? I would hope we would not fall into these categories. There have been times I’ve seen dissenters or those with differing opinions marginalized or even intellectually dismissed. This should not be happening.
Nothing New under the Sun
Not much has changed, has it? 2020: The difference is that today we have the Cancel Culture on hyperdrive. With Internet, Social Media, Instagram, Twitter, Tic-Tok, chat rooms, and numerous other venues, we have the power to bless or to curse. And our response goes ‘round the world with a simple click.
Labels and their Power
Take your pick. We so easily throw them out there: Racist, Bigot, Hater, Liberal, Conservative, Alt-Left, Far Right, Republican, Democrat, Fascists, Marxists, Communist.
“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Not true.
Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. In my next blog I’ll address these issues more specifically.
Hugs These are strange times in this changing world. COVID has kept us home and isolated. Even though many areas have gone to “Green”, there are still restrictions and face masks are mandatory in public places. And although the numbers have been decreasing, there are areas where they are slowly rising.
What to do? It is well known that hugging has inherent value. If you’ve been “Sheltering in Place” since March, it is almost unbearable to be without human contact. And more than just social interaction, the touch of another. The first weekend that “Outdoor Dining” was allowed? The restaurants were mobbed. Why? Getting out for a meal was one aspect, but even more, the social value of being out with others was finally realized.
Touch We long for human touch. The cotton industry began a campaign long ago with this foundational fact. “The touch, the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives.”
What’s so Special about Hugs? If you’ve ever held a baby, you know the value of that human touch. It calms and soothe a fussy infant. And it helps us as well. Hugging induces oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” thats renowned for reducing stress, lowering cortisol levels and increasing a sense of trust and security. It makes sense then, that hugs strengthen the immune system. As the Pandemic wears on, the desire to be with others, and the desire for human touch has only strengthened.
Perhaps that is why we are getting more irritable and “cabin fever” is sky high. That pent up feeling has reached a climax. Another friend has been expecting his first grandchild. He just turned 71. He and his wife purposely were COVID tested: negative. This set the stage for a long road trip to see that dear little boy who was just born.
Such longing and expectation! That first embrace will surely be magical.
Books: A dear friend saw this dynamic of “Socially Distant Hugs” and wrote about it:
If You Can’t Bear Hug, Air Hug: A Book Inspired by Social Distancing Paperback – May 23, 2020, Katie Sedmak (amazon.com)
Different groups For singles, the desire, or even the need for physical touch has become paramount. How do they handle that strong need? I know of several groups who have become a “family” together, basically “sheltering in place” with a small group. It brought socialization, fellowship, and interaction.
For the elderly, there is a unique risk. To become too close to others may expose them to the virus. Since the discovery of asymptotic carriers, this is a very real threat. How many babies have been born since March? And how many grandparents are yearning to see those new babies? And more than just to see them, but to tenderly enfold them in their arms?
And with nursing and care homes locked down, the isolation the elderly feel is very real:
Beauty for Ashes- Hope and Healing in Jesus Christ May 26 at 6:59 PM “She’s 98. And the isolation and loneliness came over her in a river of tears at my visit. Not able to see her son or daughter for 6 weeks. She wants to die. Because at 98 the waiting is too much. I offered to FaceTime her son. She cried more. She wanted a real hug. I in my PPE said enough. I too bent over into her arms she wrapped so tight around me. I broke the rule. I hugged her till she could breathe. We both had a healing. I’d do it again. Love matters most. The older folks in long term care haven’t been touched or hugged. It’s causing failure to thrive. Hugs are a necessary part of living. “ – shared from a nurse from a Covid healthcare workers site, because THIS right here is what the world needs to see (shared with approval or said nurse…thank you) Jennifer Rose”.
Innovation: The Hug Tunnel Necessity is the mother of invention. (Plato) Take note: “A care home for elderly people in southern Brazil has come up with a creative way to bring some love to its residents amid the coronavirus pandemic, by creating a “hug tunnel” that allows relatives to safely embrace them. The idea emerged last month, shortly after Mother’s Day, when staff at the Três Figueiras facility in the state of Rio Grande do Sul noticed some residents were feeling down. “We noticed that our senior residents were feeling sad,” Luciana Brito, one of the owners of the facility, told CNN. “We thought they would be much happier if we found a way for them to hug their relatives.”
In the Beginning…. It is not surprising that we have an inborn need for touch and belonging. God Himself instituted this within us when He created us: Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
This is the picture of an intimate creation, not a mechanical engineered slurry of atoms that instantaneously formed man.
“Social Distancing” Hugs We have gotten to know many of the neighbors during this time of Pandemic. To our delight, there are 2 little girls up the street that love our new puppy….and we have formed a close friendship. Hugs are out of the question. But then one day this appeared at our doorstep, with a gift bag:
“Sending Hugs your Way” “In a world full of darkness we could use more light, a little more love and a lot less fright. So let’s take it day by day. God will surely help us through. And in the meantime, here’s some socially distant ‘hugs” just for you.”
And in the gift bag? A package of Hershey Hugs, of course. It was a “Social Distance Hug” and it made my heart melt.
The Velveteen Rabbit “What is Real?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse, “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “Or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, but the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because when you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
At long last After a very long wait, we were finally able to see our Granddaughter. The time of quarantine was over. We anxiously awaited their arrival. When their car pulled up? She nearly burst from her seat and rushed to throw herself into my arms. It may have been the best hug ever.
The Last Hug My mother was near the end, and we knew the time was near: about 6 weeks. I remember saying goodbye, and she was standing in her walker. I gave her the kind of hug where you don’t let go. You wait for them to release the hug first. One of my hands was on her head as I felt her soft, grey hair. One hand was on her waist. I drew her near and held her close. I felt her warmth. I caught her scent. I didn’t want to let go. I wanted this hug to last forever. This hug would have to last until the next time in glory.
Until then….. Oh how we long for COVID to be over! We long for the day of full healing and restoration. Perhaps our hugs will be nestling a fresh newborn. Or it will be the soft aged skin of the elderly. When we can hug then? Let’s make sure our hugs are long and lasting and firm. Let’s make the hug last a little longer and a little more closely. Let’s be the last one to let go.
This is the season of Covid. If you haven’t been able to buy a mask, no problem. Home shops are popping up all over, with a variety of custom made masks. Churches have “Sew-ins” to provide masks. Personally, a neighbor made us two. And we were so grateful because we didn’t have any until that point.
Serve and Protect
What is it for? It is to serve us well. It is to protect ourselves as well as others and it plays a vital role. A mask made of an old sock, or an old sweater, or even a scarf works better than nothing.
Something’s Lost but Something’s Gained
Certainly the use of masks has been pivotal in this Pandemic. And for those who work as essential workers and in public health they are a necessity. But have we lost something as well?
55% of communication is visual. Traditional masks block faces and prevent our ability to see facial expressions and emotions, catch visual cues, and communicate. The first time I became aware of this dynamic I was at a store with my mask on. My glasses were steaming up, as I’ve heard is a common occurrence. And then I saw her: was it my friend Alice? Of course, we were standing 6 ft. apart, so I wasn’t sure it was her. We both wore glasses, mine getting foggier by the moment. Looking through the haze of the mask I was keenly aware of the lack of interaction—the lack of touch—the connection. No eye contact. It was almost as if there was a shame within us.
When I got back to my van I wanted to cry. This Pandemic had eroded a human connection that we all felt, and all needed.
A Human Connection
Genesis 4:6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?”
Which brings me to the point of the Mask. So much of our human interaction is through our facial recognition, our eyes and our speech. As we are getting older, the need for hearing aids is looming in the distance.
For those who are hearing impaired, this dynamic is everyday. Facial coverings muffle sounds. And there is no lip reading. Perhaps I can hear you, but can I understand you? It is so tempting to raise my mask to clarify what I’m trying to say. And I’ve noticed that as soon as I am out of the store, I rip the mask off. Hearing impaired individuals do not have this luxury. We recently had a relative admitted to the hospital for a procedure; this person is deaf and can only relate through signing and lip reading. Imagine the difficulty of his situation: unable to see the care giver’s lips move. Unable to hear. And unable to have a care giver with them to interpret. The world is a tough place for those with disabilities. The Pandemic has made this abundantly clear.
Proverbs 27:19 As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.
Masks and Other Masks
This Pandemic has taken so much from us. Many are in isolation, unable to see friends and family. They see care givers with masks on. In some cases, robed up with protective gear from head to foot. It is like a horror movie come to life. And for those dear ill ones, is there no succor?
The Clear Center
And so there is the mask with the clear center. In this way, we can see the mouth and lip read to a certain degree. It is the beginning of effective connection and communication. Companies are now producing these masks in response to the hearing impaired. And there are numerous youtube tutorials on how to make your own.
The Face Copy Mask
In rough first tries, the care taker has made a copy of their face and taped it to the front of the Personal Protective Equipment. When they are caring for the ill patient, the patient can see who is “behind” the mask. Now, companies, are creating these masks: “We make respiratory masks that look like your face. While our N95 TrueDepth compatible masks are still in production, our first product to market will be a fabric mask that resembles you, making it easier to recognize you during a viral pandemic.”
Of course, if the picture of the face is immovable? And the person is speaking? It seems this would be a surreal dynamic.
Funny Masks One clip on Youtube had a woman with a mask that seemed to be a simple smile. But when she pulled the top and bottom, it revealed a toothy grin. She took immense pride in the mask. You couldn’t help but laugh: her joy was full. You could see the sparkle in her eyes, and we knew she was laughing behind the mask. Despite the mask, her humanity came through.
A New Normal
We are nearing the opening of many of our states. Face masks are still required. We long for the day when we can come and go freely without restrictions, without fear. We do not know when that will be. But if nothing else, this has taught us the limitations we have with masks, and the limitations of the hearing impaired community.
And we know that God, in His great mercy, turns His face upon us unclothed, unfettered, and full of peace.
Numbers 6:24-2624 “‘“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’
1 Cor 13:12 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And to be fully known? Isn’t this the desire of our hearts?
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. to be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” Timothy Keller
The Pandemic of the past 3 months have been challenging for all of us. Restlessness, boredom, fear and anxiety abound. Haircuts and coloring are needed by many. But a special group—those children with Special Needs, goes beyond this scope.
We thrive on routine and predicability. The Special Needs child is no different. The safe and expected environment helps them feel secure and in control. And the past 3 months have been so out of control. The changes to their routine has been fearful and confusing for them and may lead to behavioral changes. And these are things they may have a hard time articulating.
Most of these children have been in structured schools that help them. With schools closed, they may have a limited understanding of why they cannot attend. Parents of these children are trying to manage these dynamics without the typical structure to their child’s day. There is loss, grief, and isolation. Quarantine has not been easy.
I have two dear friends I’d like to introduce to you. Perhaps this will give you a window into their world:
You wanted to know what being quarantined with a child who has special needs is like. In one word – HARD!! And that is not just from me, but from ALL my friends who have kids with special needs. All the kids are anxious and need calming. All the kids need almost constant attention. All the kids are confused and lonely. Parents who work are having a difficult time trying to do their jobs and keep these kids occupied. If you walk around neighborhoods you see typical kids outside playing with each other. Luke and others don’t have friends to play with. The parents are the friends. There is lots of grieving going on.
It is hard because of the limited understanding of these kids. Luke knows there is a VIRUS out there, that means people are sick. So why does school have to end? People are sick all the time. Why is this different? He is scared and anxious that he will get “THE VIRUS”. I am constantly assuring him that he will be ok. The only way to ensure that is to keep him home.
Luke is used to following a schedule. Everything is different now. I quickly came up with a daily schedule for him to follow and we stick to it. No deviations. Ever. It keeps him calm, which is one of my main goals.
It’s hard to have them home because they are hard to handle. Luke has more frequent tantrums, can change moods on a dime. Some of the kids need constant action and activity, some are loud and screamers, some make constant noise, some throw things.
“Home becomes a place of chaos for all instead of a pleasant type of quarantine.”
The other thing about this “quarantine” is that it is more of the same for parents of kids with special needs. We are already isolated from many activities in the community so this is not exactly new, but much, much worse. It is a constant grieving for losses that are immediate (no school means no break from Luke), Special Olympics was cancelled (lots of crying over that), to future anxieties – Extended School Year might be cancelled, which means no break from Luke ALL SUMMER). That is a very bleak outlook for parents like me. It is exhausting and you can’t just call a babysitter to help.
That is the HARD part but there are blessing. I have gotten to know Luke better than I did. I know now how he learns and why he doesn’t learn. I am teaching him to tie his shoes. We go on walks every day. He notices every blooming tree. He points things out that I would miss. He laughs with his dad and is delighted to be with dad all day. He is also forgiving and kind and fun to be with. He makes me feel beautiful because he tells me I am beautiful. Any husband could take lessons from Luke. He enjoys the smallest things. We Facetime his friends and they just delight in looking at each other. It is so sweet!!!
One things many parents have said is that it is like being locked in with a 12 or 13 or 14 year old toddler!!! That says it all.
I think the best way to describe the impact of the pandemic is to give you a little background on Jesse and then tell you some key things that have happened since our lives were suddenly and abruptly changed.
Jesse’s diagnoses of Pitt Hopkins has many issues to it. However one of the biggest for us, and the reason we fought to move him to Camphill School, is his breathing issues. He will hyperventilate and have apnea episode that are brought on by being disoriented, anxious and out of routine. So you can imagine the concern we had with the closing of the schools and how that will impact Jesse.
A little more history before I go much further. When Jesse was in school in our district he was having close to 500 apnea episodes a month at school. In the 2 years he has been at Camphill he has had almost no apnea episodes. His routine and expectations are very clear and familiar so his anxiety is down, he is not disoriented and is thriving there.
So the first day, a Friday, of the schools closing, Jesse had a tough time understanding what was happening. Why his routine was not happening and was very disoriented. He had a number of apnea episodes and was clearly very anxious. So throughout that day I gathered as much material of educational and chores we had around and made a visual schedule for him so he would know what his day would look like and what the expectations were for the day. This helped a lot for the next two weeks as Camphill, a total hands on life skills school with very little technology in the classrooms, adjusted. As they started planning Zoom meetings and such, I just adjusted the schedule.
Jesse has actually done pretty well by keeping him on an expected schedule and he is making gains on his IEP goals and everything. A couple things are still difficult. He has had more aggressive behaviors since the lock down. The cause and length is not as important as the fact that it has increased a little.
The other issue that is hard is he continues to ask to go to places or see family and friends. He doesn’t understand why and asks for the same things almost everyday. Go to the mall, soccer baseball, pool, church. We continue to remind him that none of them are open right now. He wants to go see grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, class mates. Zoom is a quick glimpse of them, but not enough for him.
Zoom classes and meetings are not productive for him either. He will recognize who is there but won’t interact like he would if he was in person with them.
I have enjoyed working with Jesse during this time and we have bonded even more than before. However he NEEDS to get back to school cause they can provide things I can’t. I can teach him the academics, occupational therapy, speech by following the direction of the teacher and therapists. I cannot teach him social skills and social interaction with his peers. It is just not the same doing those skills with your dad and siblings or on Zoom.
This is such a hard time for these dear families. If you are feeling restless and bored? Peek into their lives:
These families juggle the Pandemic as we do, with Special Needs tossed in. For Jesse, wearing a mask brings on episodes of apnea. This is even more restrictive and isolating.
Where does this leave us? There are no easy answers, but there is an abundance of compassion and mercy.
This is a ministry that works with those with disabilities. They take their name from 1 Corinthians 12:23 “those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor.”
God takes the things we think are broken or weak and builds his Kingdom with them.
1 Cor 1:27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
Perhaps in this time of Pandemic, the “least of these” and this ministry may teach us much in how to honor and value persons.
Right after “Social Distancing”, “Zoom Meetings” may be the new words for 2020. School’s out. Work is out. Church is out. But wait….We can always zoom a meeting! (Or whatever platform you prefer.)
While we have to “Shelter in place,” it seems like Zoom has come to our rescue. A way to connect with others! A way to engage with friends and family. But after nearly 3 months of this, the verdict is in. And it is not favorable.
Dress for Success
When you are in a zoom meeting, you are only visible from mid chest up. Generally. There are, of course, people who will try stretch the limits of acceptability and modesty in this. For instance, one on line video had 4 coworkers in a meeting. But one young man forgot that his camera was on….and proceeded to get up, clad in a shirt and his underwear. From there he proceeded to the refrigerator, scratching his back side the whole way. The others were screaming to him, “Your camera is on! Turn it off!” But to no avail. He had silenced the computer.
Teachers know the struggle. Note this:
“These times are Definitely strange. After a few weeks, my students are trying to outdo one another in strangeness on-line. I’ve seen odd PJ’s—like Halloween costumes—I’ve met younger siblings, pets, and discovered odd breakfast habits. Unfortunately, I’ve also realized that many of them expect a pass because of the pandemic. So, the cream rises to the top as usual, but there is an even smaller set of students within the ‘B’ range. Nevertheless, I am trying to enjoy it.”
It seems that Zoom meetings are a connection to others, but it is also exhausting. I enjoy seeing my friends and family. But it feels different. Why?
I recently made a video concerning the Pandemic, at the request of my good friend, Doug Dwyer, Addisville Church. He had suggested we discuss the many issues around it. However, in watching it again, I am very aware of where I am looking…or not looking! While I am looking at him during the interview, it seems like my gaze is about 3-4 inches lower.
Eye contact is crucial to human connection. Perhaps Zoom meets the minimum requirement for connection, but fails in the area of eye contact. I end up not quite knowing where I am looking. If I look to the speaker, I feel more genuine in a conversation. But the reality is that I am not really looking into their eyes at all. It is as if there is an invisible bulls eye just South of where I am looking. It is off-putting and uncomfortable. Where do I look? How do I connect?
Who is on First?
Depending on the size of the meeting, you may be looking at everyone at the same time. Consider this: in a “live” meeting, you may turn to the speaker and watch them, engaging in eye contact. It seems to be a meeting with that one person. And there is also the quick look away, rather than a sustained interrogation. But in a zoom meeting? Now you have innumerable sets of eyes looking in. At you. Where do you look?
Most conversations are marked by body language and stimuli. But not so with Zoom. We are so busy trying to take it all in, that we don’t get the full message at all.
Looking at all those eyes and faces brings on a great deal of fatigue. The program is cued by the next person talking. Consider this: in a meeting, there may be 15 people talking over each other. The loudest and brashest speaker gets the floor. Now take Zoom: again, the loudest speaker gets on camera. But there is no nuance in hearing other voices or opinions. It is drowned out by the ONE person who gets the floor. This is a mental strain that does not take place in live meetings.
Live meetings give us time and space to sit back and relax and listen. To wait for the next speaker. And to take in body language, facial expressions and reactions. But in Zoom, there is a constant stare into the other’s faces. There is not the usual give and take of conversation that makes people interactions so…. so human.
Some families have taken to “Family Zoom Meetings.” These are Pandemic developments, for the entire family never met before online. It seems strange and awkward, perhaps a bit forced.
Several of my friends are teachers. Because school is out, they are sending out assignments through the internet. And they connect with their students through Zoom or other platforms. But in the school setting, their teaching happened before a classroom of say, 28 students. This is not a possibility in COVID times. They may be able to meet in small groups of 3-4 students. This results in teachers working double the hours. They long to see their students in real time. The students are tired of it all. Everyone wants to go back to reality.
Another friend spends most of the morning in meetings. By the time she is finished, she is exhausted and her eyes hurt. And she wonders if she has accomplished her goal.
Justin, a health care professional had this to say: “I hate Zoom. I’d so much rather meet in person. Reactions are critical in interactions; Zoom has a delay. And there is the issue of people “talking over” one another. And the “Zoom freeze.” I’m so ready for it to be done.”
When the time comes to say goodbye, we all fumble to get to the red button, of “Off.” Now, where was that button? We are all gaily wishing the others well, while we awkwardly fumble to close off the conversation. It brings it full circle: We have connected, but the reality hurts. This is not real interaction that sustains and enriches us. It may be good for the moment. But it does not fulfill us as we long for human influence.
And perhaps this is the good news. That although Zoom has brought us to the minimum requirements of our work or meetings with others, it has also revealed the deeper need that we all know.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, we seek the spark of the Infinite God. God is mindful of mankind, and He cares for us. We are made a little lower than the angels. We are crowned with glory and honor. (Ps 8)
Because we are made in the image of God, we see this within the other.
Technology and Zoom may be a method to connect, but they are second best.
There is a real fear of the economic impact on people. Nationally, and even internationally, businesses are scrambling to stay afloat. The enormous impact on these people is staggering. In one case in TX, Shelley Luther opened up her beauty salon and was arrested. Her reasoning? ”I have to feed my family.” This is by no means a political statement. Certainly we can understand and empathize with her concerns.
As time goes on, the numbers go up. But this can feed the anxiety, wondering if I may be the next one. Did I wash my hands enough? Did I wipe down the groceries? Did I pick up an item that someone else touched? How can I know for sure? How can I be certain?
Time Marches On
While many areas are opening up, or loosening guidelines and restrictions, some are still firmly in place. We live in Montgomery County, PA—the “hotspot” of PA. We watch as other counties are going from red to yellow. And we continue to wait. We will probably be the last county to open up, excluding Philadelphia.
And we already canceled a long awaited trip to Europe in August. It will be rescheduled in 2022. But who knows what our plans will be at that point? The uncertainty of all of this weighs on us. This adds to the stress that we all feel.
We may easily underestimate the connections we have in our social network. My husband has struck up a friendship at our local WaWa. The clerk is friendly and congenial; my husband likes the coffee as well as the fellowship.
We have lost the connection of our colleagues. Fortunately, we do see our neighbors. Internationally, the ability to go out of our homes has been restricted. In Spain, our daughter and family had specific days and hours that they could be outside. We might look to Facetime, or Zoom or other platforms to connect with other people. But these “virtual” connections may not be enough. It might not be the support we need. There is a physical aspect of connection that cannot be underestimated.
Lack of connection can result in loneliness, and may result in depression, increased suicide risk, stress, anxiety and alcohol use. In some cases, there may be increased domestic violence, and lack of nutrition.
Consider how this impacts children:
“To understand how the virus may affect children during these formative years, Schwehm said we might be able to look at the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for answers. “We’ve seen the effects something like 9/11 had on children, with increased rates of behavioral problems and depression in children in New York City,” he said. “This might be especially true for children whose parents are serving as essential workers: medical staff, grocery store workers.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5314935/
I have a friend who has an aunt in a nursing home. Her observations: “She will be 104 June 3rd if she makes it. She is totally with it mentally and lives for her visits from family. Between all of us she usually has a steady stream of visitors – her daughter, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. She is literally dieing of loneliness. Not eating, lost 15 lbs. It is breaking my heart.”
“This hits home with me! My momma died from failure to thrive. I am not bitter about it but I am just saying what is true! I am relieved every day that she is home with Jesus. I know she knows how much we all loved her and when she got to heaven she truly knew then what horrible thing happened to her down here on earth. Someday there will be no more tears and no more sadness. There will be no more evil. But until that day I just press on.
“It’s like torture for the families. If covid doesn’t kill them, they’ll die from loneliness. And we have no control of it.”
Brad Hunstable, Aledo TX, released a video describing the death of his 12 yr old son Hayden Bradley Hunstable, 3 days before his 13th birthday. Hayden took his own life on April 17, 2020. Hunstable describes his son’s death as being caused by COVID, but not in the usual way. The social isolation his son felt was too much for him.
We are longing for that connection, aren’t we? I saw a video of a family in Canada that visited Grandmom with sheets of plastic, hung on the clothesline. They created arms. Then invited Grandmom in for a full hug, plastic and all between them. Others wore dinosaur costumes. Perhaps it was second best? But it worked.
We are all looking for that human connection. More in another blog.