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Friday May 27th 2022

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Peace House Community”“A Place to Belong

Remembering We”™re (Sort Of) All in This Together

That”™s Catherine Mamer, dressed as a witch, at a Peace House Halloween party; whose poetic words Mike Hazard highlights within “Poetical Picture Story” on page 5. “I love that it is a little United Nations ..so many people”¦so much difference”¦together”¦.if Peace House Community did not exist, I would have to invent it.” Photo: MIKE HAZARD

By MARTI MALTBY

In one sense I hate mentioning the Coronavirus pandemic, because no one needs to be reminded of it and I would love to provide an escape from it. On the other hand, it has illustrated one of society”™s strange paradoxes that has been on the edge of my thoughts since last year.

When it comes to surviving the pandemic, many people say that “We”™re all in this together”, meaning we (as individuals) need to cooperate with the measures that we (as a society) must follow to stop the disease from spreading. Those people want to evoke an image of community, cooperation and everyone pitching in to accomplish a common cause.

And how do we do this? By staying as far from each other as possible, minimizing social (let alone physical) contact and generally isolating ourselves from each other. While we can still call, text or email each other, we can”™t actually do anything together, at least not without risking each other”™s health. Ironically, in the past when someone got sick, friends and neighbors might bring chicken soup or stop by to say hi, just to encourage the person and meet their needs. Now, sickness has become the period of greatest isolation. Even just the potential of having been exposed, the mere possibility that someone will get sick, is enough to isolate someone. It seems that our practice of “being in this together” demands that we come up with a modern phrase to illustrate what we mean.

This all brings me back to the paradox I mentioned earlier. As a society, we constantly try to balance the need to be together with our natural tendency to move away from anyone or anything that strikes us as at all threatening. Society, by definition, means people are together, and yet society is where we meet the “other,” the person who looks different from us, who has different values, who will upset what I see as normal, and who may try to take what is mine.

The paradox was summed up beautifully for me a few months ago when I heard about a homeless man who was invited to attend a church service. His was hesitant to accept the invitation, explaining that “I”™ve been in lots of church basements. That”™s where they serve the meals. I just never thought they wanted me in other parts of the church.” As a Christian, I relate well to the man”™s comment. It”™s so easy to intellectually value community but work against it in practice. In this time of pandemic, it makes sense to ask everyone to practice social distancing as a way of caring for others, but we often do this without recognizing the emotional damage that isolation causes.

Of course, there is no solution or “right” answer here. Protecting the vulnerable from the pandemic is vitally important, but when that means shut-in grandparents can”™t visit newborn grandchildren, domestic violence increases because of the stress of sharing a small apartment with others, and families cannot properly mourn the death of a loved one because funerals are now unhygienic, the “right” answer seems barely better than the alternative.

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