“A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships.”Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu
The city is opening up. Or, so it would seem. Just today bars now have to place tables outside. Last week it was inside social distancing. One of the rants is the very phrase “social distancing.” Such should be “physical distancing” because the former contributes to isolation. Even in our words and phrases, this pandemic is an engine that isolates.
Have you seen the strong almost intoxicating desire to rejoin our friends at our local bars, clubs, and shows? Perhaps you have joined such groups. Sometimes it is so hard to define ourselves outside of our environments. I was an only child and for much of that childhood I was pretty good with that. But I do remember clearly one day when I felt so alone. I kept asking my mother to go somewhere. I wanted nothing but her attention. Then she knelt down and said, “Billy, you are going to have to learn to like yourself.” I was in no way satisfied with that odd answer. I guess that I went in my room, gave it some thought then likely played with some green plastic army guys and annihilated them all. Unsatisfactory.
Maybe we can look at what some of the experts say:
Regarding older adults: “ As Americans heed the advice of public health and government officials to remain physically distanced from neighbors, friends, and relatives to fight the coronavirus, another epidemic is exacerbated — social isolation. This can result in loneliness, and the negative consequences can be severe: an increased risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death.” 4/2020 The Commonwealth Fund
Regarding younger adults: “The health risks of infection differ by generation. For many young adults, life lived at a social distance, with a lack of peer support, comes at a high cost to mental health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly half of people between 18 and 29 report feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression. That’s significantly higher than the rate for both their parents and their grandparents. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people under 35.” NPR 7/4/2020
Regarding faith in isolation: (From only one religious leader, Dennis Sasso, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis) [Rabbi] believes he has two main roles during the COVID-19 crisis: making sure his congregants are cared for emotionally and spiritually, and reminding them to follow health experts’ directives. “As a faith leader, what I can say to the community is, listen to the medical and scientific advice,” says Sasso. “Follow all the protocols. Follow the directives that will keep us healthy. Science and medicine will help us uncover the cure. The purpose of religion and faith is to provide the healing that community and wisdom and tradition can bring.” TIME online, Tara Law April 1, 2020.
It should be noted that much of what young adults had been experiencing before COVID is not dissimilar to what elders experience though for very different reasons.
Oh, how we long to be together. Younger adults have climbed into a cave called social media. It is a cave that separates us, but gives us the illusion of being in contact. So, in-person socialization slowly erodes and with it a sense of place. So, what we find is that the suicide rate for this age group is higher than the national average. Compound that with being a part of the LBGTQ+ identity and the suicide rate skyrockets.
LGBTQ+ elders share a similar fate. Estrangement from families, isolation, and a continuing confrontation with social norms of a decade or more ago.
In fact the issue for older LGBTQ+ persons is so acute that there has been a lot of conversation about establishing a “Gay Retirement Home” because of the predatory, dismissive, and often abusive conditions that LGBTQ+ persons experience in current retirement homes. It is the same old crap of beating up the gay person; it is just the geriatric version of it. This community can give great thanks to SAGE (NOAGE) for attending to the potential isolation of older members of the Community. Yet how many slip through the cracks?
At this point, we bear witness to isolation before COVID. The pandemic has created a whole new era of separation and a social situation where isolation is almost normative. Those who crave being in community attempt, in an almost addictive way, to break out and socialize. I am seeing drag shows with no masks and no distancing. I worry about those tradition-bearers. I see bars and pubs, generally not in Orleans Parish but beyond our borders, that pack the house. We watch with morbid fascination the crowds in Florida at Spring Break, or perhaps in Missouri, yet the need to go to a watering hole is so intense that many wander that way.
I know it is difficult. I know that businesses and jobs are at risk. I also know that many of our Gay bars have tried wholeheartedly to comply with best practices. This is particularly true of French Quarter bars. Yet, other places seem to ignore social distancing. People in our own community seem to ignore and not model safe behaviors and so….the government steps in. I suppose what this is all about is the ancient adage to “take the log from your own eye.” Some soul searching might be good.
The local bar is a unique institution in the Community. For generations, it was the safe place. It remains the safe place for many. Most of those establishments, the ones that I am familiar with, all help support the larger community even beyond providing a safe gathering space. Look what Betty’s did when we first went into lockdown. Bear witness to the several bars that have supported our community outreach: The Phoenix, Mag’s, Cutter’s, Friendly Bar, Golden Lantern, Bourbon Pub, Oz and the list goes on. So, yes I am a fan, but I am also very worried about the health of the Community.
If Christians, specifically churches and denominations, had not demonized ‘homosexuality’. If we/they had embraced the Community and understood how difficult it had been for so many centuries. If somehow the late 20th century had found its way into denominations in the 1950’s instead of almost a half century later. Then isolation, estrangement, and separation would not be quite so chronic nor quite so acute. Humans– trans, gay, cis gen, fluid, lesbian, and all manner of folk–would have known of a quiet and safe place where life is valued and human foibles celebrated.
If we can learn to open our doors, our video streams, our hearts, and our minds to really offer radical hospitality then, as the Rabbi said, we might, “ provide the healing that community and wisdom and tradition can bring” We are trying, but are we trying hard enough?
I grieve for young men who live on the street, homeless, in bad shape, gay and afraid. They are learning too soon to be hard and devious (for preservation). They are in a form of isolation.
I grieve for the old person who can no longer voyage out. Who has no family that recognizes them. I grieve as they languish with only Judge Judy and not much else. They are in a form of isolation.
I grieve for the poor souls who are not confident nor self-accepting enough to live a solitary life that does not require adoration, affirmation, and bar-bound companionship in order to avoid depression. They are in a form of isolation.
I and this church cannot reach each and every one of you to tell you constantly that you are beloved beyond measure by a creator that made you. That the church has erred and gone astray from the Rabbi who wandered the Galilee proclaiming release from the bondage of hatred and arrogance. I lament that new voices can only go so far.
If you find that you are in isolation, that you are getting depressed, that you are compelled — despite the best guidance of a COVID world — that you NEED to go out and to breach protocols….call a friend. If not a friend, call the church. We are your friend. But please know that all of the time, in all places, in all manners of sober, drunk, high or in-between, you are beloved. God made them. God made them in God’s image. God made them Man and God made them Woman. You are beloved.