One of the delights of my island is the window that overlooks the street from right beside my desk. AS I write we are watching a few people doing some gardening and every so often a glistening soul will wander past at the back of the leash of a very happy and content dog. People are calm and for the most part friendly, although we can almost hear the mental effort to remember our ‘social distancing.”
I find the term “social distancing” both quaint and a little charming. It is unclear who coined it – the web merely accepts it as a given term and then goes into the dreary but important details of how to follow its tenets.
But as in all things the nuance of the phrase matters. ‘Social distancing’ is clearly distinct from ‘quarantine’ both in tis absence of negative connotations and in that it allows considerably more freedom of movement. For now, at least, we can venture out, we can visit the sun, we can shop for essentials (and whatever luxuries drugstores and groceries may hold). We can even patronize restaurants if we pick up and take out. This last allowance has the doubly satisfying effect of giving us a respite from pork n’ beans and providing some much-needed income to endangered retailers.
The only thing we cannot do is physically contact one another. We can’t stop to pet the neighbor’s cute dog. We can’t hug the old friend or shake hands with the school buddy whom we chance to meet. In our glances and our nods to one another as we pass on the quiet streets there is regret and nostalgia. But there is also recognition; an awareness that the neighbor, the friend, the stranger is there and part of the strange drama that is unfurling in our lives.
That awareness is something new. How many times have we walked down far more crowded streets without the faintest hint of togetherness? Or been in our own neighborhood where people have no time for even a nod or a sad smile.
The question about the phrase ‘social distancing’ is which word modifies which? Is it society that must be distanced? Or is it the distance that has been made more social?
[This Post was adapted from a essay originally published on Facebook the day listed above]