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Keeping us six feet apart has connected us more

I’ve spent the last three weeks mostly sheltering in place. Except the footprint of my yard extends to my Kia, my rolling garden/woodworking/work clothes storage shed, and from our cottage just over Jack’s Creek, six blocks down Third Street to Rose Haven where I’ve been spending more than half my day working in the Rose Haven gardens.

I told Allison, who is down here for the time being as she works remotely for her Pentagon job, that my life really is no different from pre-COVID.

“I am doing now what I used to do, get up, write or grade my online Norwich University classes, or do Pamlico Rose stuff, drink coffee, check the weather, again, change from sweats to work jeans, my beat-up Uggs or flips to beat-up work boots, layer up with sweatshirts and sunscreen, grab Bella, roll down the street to the center mid-morning, work in gardens for four hours or so, while de-layering, roll back down the street to the cottage with Bella, get out, grab lunch, work on our yard for a bit, shower, do an afternoon work session for Pamlico Rose, take Bella for a walk.”

I stopped my dissertation on my day, as I wondered if she thought it to banal, and told her, “It may seem predictable, oh, OK, it is predictable, but studies show that hewing to routine during an uncertain time can reduce anxiety and stress.”

But I also knew that being resilient in an extended crisis like COVID meant adopting new or modified behaviors and making them routine — or the new buzzword, “the new normal” —for example, how we now communicate, if you have the luxury of the internet.

We “Zoom” so much now, we must keep a detailed schedule of daily calls. In the past, the only time I saw my family together was at a yearly reunion. Now, once a week, we Zoom and there they are, stacked up on my computer screens like the weekly opening of “The Brady Bunch.” We Zoom with different parts of Alli’s family a couple of times a week and play variations of Trivial Pursuit. She has several different Zoom dates with different groups of her friends at least once a week each. During her workday, she has telecons with her folks several times a day. Sometimes we each have Zoom calls at the same time, so we split to different parts of the house.

In an irony of the times, keeping us six feet apart has connected us more with family and friends we only occasionally or rarely see during the “old normal,” and where “closer together” really depends on your internet connection. The key to being resilient is not so much enduring a crisis ’til it ends, because in our life and times, there is always a crisis in waiting, but how you adapt behaviors during a crisis. Resilience is more about agility than hunkering down, online school, new ways of doing business, the creation of new “family” or what anthropologists call fictive kin, COVID clans and more. Crisis usually also reveals, like a laser, the inequities in our society, such as internet accessibility determined by the privilege of geography and wealth.

I’ve read many op-eds and commentary about what life will be like when we “return” to the old normal in a post-COVID society. Only a few get the memo: there is no return in resilience; crises are the cauldron of innovation, while also being, for many, the depth of despair and a spike in anxiety. And that combination makes how we survive COVID just as important as when we survive it. My father used to say to us kids: It’s the journey, not the destination that makes you grow. He was usually right, much to our chagrin.

Robert Greene Sands is an anthropologist and the president of Pamlico Rose Institute for Sustainable Communities.