The new norms take some getting used to

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

short rows headerA few observations on society in a COVID-19 world:



Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I want to hug the grandchildren. It’s that simple. And that complicated.

We’re honestly trying to comply with this “social distancing,” and quite frankly, doing so is the lightest load being carried in society. When I think of the people who don’t have the option of staying at home, I have no room to complain — absolutely none.

The clerk who checks out our groceries, the nurses, doctors and numerous technicians in area hospitals, postal clerks and carriers, pharmacy and other store employees, utility workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and countless others — they are the people who are daily at risk while this pandemic gnaws away at society.

For many of us, all we have to do is avoid people and wear a mask and rubber gloves when we can’t. So why, then, does it feel so hard? Partially, at least, because as our society has evolved, we have become huggers. Hugging wasn’t always so readily accepted or applied. But today, close contact with other people means, and often dictates, a hug or handshake.

I have roots deep in the Baker clan of Surry, and hugging is in the family genes. When cousins meet, we hug — well, at the very least the men extend a warm and firm handshake while cousins of the opposite sex get a hug.

In our close-knit communities of Isle of Wight and Surry, hugging or shaking hands extends well beyond family. It is as much a part of daily life as getting dressed in the morning.

I’ll grant you that the coronavirus isn’t the first assault on hugging that has occurred. In the workplace, “appropriate” behavior between the sexes, culminating in the “Me Too” movement of the past decade, long ago made it off-limits to hug anyone, or for that matter, show much empathy at all.

But for most of us in this still-Virginian community, hugs outside of the workplace remain important.

Until, that is, COVID-19 brought about “social distancing” and “stay at home.”

Please don’t misinterpret this. I think most of the nation’s governors have performed courageously and reasonably in setting the restrictions that now are slowing the spread of COVID-19, but even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview last week that the thing he misses most is being able to hug his grandchildren. Amen to that.


Keeping distance

I’m impressed that most people are being stand-offish in the most polite ways possible. We try to make grocery runs when there are few people around. Even so, there are other folks doing the same thing. We all have the same need to supply the cupboard. Most today are wearing masks, and many are wearing throwaway gloves. The gloves are a sign of self-defense. The masks are a sign that we care about people around us.

Beyond that attire, people are keeping their distance. We are now all very much aware of how long six feet is, and most people are seriously trying to maintain it. If you’re in a grocery aisle, an approaching cart pusher is likely to turn his or her head away as they pass. I’ve also seen people wait at the end of an aisle for someone to leave it before they enter. Once that might have been considered a snub; now it’s a compassionate move, a gesture of solidarity in this battle.


Checkout barriers

Hats off to the storeowners who have built Plexiglas barriers between their checkout personnel and customers. These employees are the glue that is holding things together these days, and they deserve all the protection they can have.

These and other adjustments in our daily lives make up the very weird world we are now living in, a world that’s not likely to change anytime soon.


Take-out dining

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. When you pick up or receive delivery of a take-out order, tip generously. Restaurants are keeping employees onboard as much as possible, but the cost of a meal only begins to cover the overhead being experienced by the businesses and the losses being experienced by wait staff who are still working.