By Mark Winkler
This pandemic has revealed a lot of information. One strong piece of information is, human connection is important, some would argue essential, as it relates to survival, growth, and joy. Over the past year, we were forced to understand the significance other people play in our daily lives. The absence of family and friends from our established routines has revealed we are not islands unto ourselves. As the CDC issued more restrictive measures, to combat the rising tide of the virus, human beings became more cautious of physical contact. Safe distance regulations morphed into no or very limited contact between family and friends.
When these regulations first came into play, we were told they would only be necessary for a few weeks. Weeks bled into months though. As each month passed, more and more people realized, a new way of living was upon us, and like it or not, we were all forced to adapt to increasingly restrictive directives.
In most instances, virtual contact replaced physical contact. Birthday parties and family reunions were now being celebrated online. In my home, we’ve conducted three virtual birthday parties thus far. Business meetings and seminars are routinely hosted on Zoom and other virtual platforms. Online DJs, like Grammy award-winning DJ NICE, became household names as they virtually spun records late into the evening, giving all who logged on a brief reprieve from the discomfort of not being able to enjoy a weekend outing to the local club or a family gathering.
What was missing from this virtual experience was something many people, including this writer, took for granted, the importance of physical human connection. The irreplaceable positive, energy one receives when they engage in the ritual of a greeting hug or firm handshake from a beloved family member, a trusted friend, or new business partner. There was a collective realization, we truly missed being around other people. We missed the warmth of grandma’s hands and the in-person laughter and banter shared between family and friends. These beautiful experiences, many considered nothing more than mundane human contacts are now being reevaluated.
As people start to reemerge from their quarantine enclaves, they are, for the moment, placing more value on a visit to grandma’s home, a walk in the park with a family member, or hanging out with a group of friends during Happy Hour. The significance of these life occurrences is now more pronounced in our minds. We appreciate these moments more now because we all know what life feels like without these situations.
During the pandemic, I lost my father. Because we were both being Covid Safe, we did not see each other much leading up to his passing. Our contact was limited to frequent phone calls and one or two safe distanced conversations from my car as he stood outside his residence. I miss sitting on my father’s couch and just talking with him. I wish I would have known how valuable those conversations were back then. I would have been less distracted and more focused of mind as my dear father carefully threaded each word into the most elaborate and informative talks.
The question is, how do we avoid backsliding into once again undervaluing our beloved family members and trusted compadres as this country and the world slowly re-opens?
For this father and husband, it starts with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of actively focusing on what is important to the preservation of life and the things which create joy and peace within one’s existence. I’ve come to more deeply understand healthy human connection, something many considered expendable, is a primary ingredient for peace and joy. Like many, though, I lost sight of this. The absence of consistent human contact brought this understanding back to me in a new and profound way. As mentioned earlier in this piece, we are not islands unto ourselves. We thrive when we have human experiences which uplift and challenge us towards the best version of ourselves.
Family and friends are two primary conduits through which we encounter these uplifting and growth-inducing moments. Therefore, it is crucial we remember to create opportunities where we can experience the company of our loved ones. And while we are in the midst of these gatherings, we should strive to remain mindful. One way to do this is to remind yourself, life does not guarantee another moment like the one you are actively engaging in, so make certain to be present.
So the next time you are fortunate enough to spend time with your family or friends, try and remember to keep your mobile device in your pocket. Eliminate all distractions. In fact, if you can, silence the ringer. Cherish each moment. Remind yourself to actively listen and savor every moment, every word. Don’t take for granted and think another moment like this one will automatically occur. Pray and believe it will, but don’t gamble any moment away because you feel the next one will happen soon enough. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it showed us personal contact, with those we love, should never be overlooked as an ordinary occurrence. Mindfully embrace each moment.Mark Winkler is an author and motivational speaker. His book, My Daughter’s Keeper, is the compelling story of a father who risked everything to remain in his daughter’s life.