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Social Distancing Should Not Be Compassion Distancing

This afternoon I had to prune our Japanese Maple. It is a surprisingly easy job, but a bit time-consuming. The first step is to remove all of the dead leaves that are covering up the structure of the tree; it is a pretty messy job and sure to get you covered in debris. Next, you have to go over each branch and look for the branches that have died. They are easy to spot as they are dried and brittle whereas the living branches are green and pliable.


The strange thing was that there were forks in the branches in which one branch lived and the other died. Some of these forks were large and some were just twigs. Perhaps a trained arborist could tell the difference, but to my amateur eye, there didn’t seem to be any pattern to which branch lived and which withered. Next to a grey and lifeless branch was a green branch heavy with Spring buds. They had gotten the same amount of sun, the same water, and the same opportunity to grow, but one was healthy and one was dead.


While I was pruning, I couldn’t help thinking of how at this moment of crisis our society is much like the tree I was pruning. Most the branches were fine and will soon bloom, but there will be loss and it will occur dispersed among those who thrive. But unlike my tree, we know what will cause the divide at the fork of the branch: indifference, greed, hostility, and complacency. To limit the loss, we have to care for the whole tree and not just our branch.


We have been told to practice social distancing, but that should not translate into compassion distancing. We can’t wait until the proverbial “after,” to remove the leaves and start looking for the dead branches. By then, it will be too late. We need to look for the forks in the branches and make sure that both can thrive.


We must actively look for ways that we can help each other.


If we are all going to overbuy to give ourselves a feeling of control during this uncertain time, please consider throwing a little extra into the cart and then donate it to your local hunger prevention center so that we can help those unable to buy themselves the feeling of extra security that comes with a full pantry and refrigerator. These groups will need toiletries and baby care items as well. Our social safety nets will be strained as the economic fall out of this virus follows the health care crisis.


There are those for whom staying home from work is not an option, but as schools across the country close, millions of parents are scrambling to figure out how to juggle child care and work without any room in their budget for extra costs. Maybe you have room in your home and your schedule to help out in this area. Think of it as an extended playdate that is doing some good.

While the kids are home, you could have them make drawings and cards for those quarantined in nursing homes. They can't have visitors and are probably feeling very vulnerable. Plus, they are all to often overlooked as we look at our elders as though their usefulness has passed.

Try to be kind to each other. Stress is a killer of kindness, and the longer it goes on the more lethal it becomes. The good news is that smiling and laughing are the antidotes. So smile at strangers and laugh with your loved ones. Check on your neighbors and show compassion to people you don’t know. When we refocus our energy into helping relieve the stress of others, we help relieve our own stress as well. We are buoyed by our common struggle.


One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” We should follow that advice. Someday our children will their children what it was like to live through this time. How do we want them to describe it? How do we want this to end? What do we want society to have learned when it is over? What do we hope will have changed?


Our now is not our forever, but it will shape our future. Let’s do a good job.

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