Strange experiences

I was walking across a large parking lot, tying on my mask as I went. I had parked away from other cars and there weren’t any people anywhere near close to me, but I was heading into the store to pick up an item that we needed at church. The mask I was wearing was one that ties behind your head in two places. I have two masks, one to be in the wash and the other to use. The other mask has elastic, but this one you have to tie. Either my head is big or the person who sewed the mask was short of fabric, but I have to pull very tight and have just barely enough on the ties to get a knot tied. The mask got on the wrong side of my glasses and I fogged them up, which probably made me walk a bit crooked. I probably looked pretty silly, but with everyone wearing masks, we all look a bit silly anyway.

Inside the store, it was a bit chaotic. I was trying to keep my distance from others, but the shelves were very tall, so I couldn’t see around the corner to know If I might meet someone. The store had some spacing marked on the floor close to the checkout stations, but there were no arrows indicating traffic flow as is the case with the grocery store where I shop about once a week. Not everyone was wearing masks, but a lot of us were. One problem with a mask is that people can’t tell if you are smiling or scowling, which didn’t matter much, because people weren’t looking at one another. They were mostly looking down or away when I looked at them.

I found myself remembering something that we used to talk about when I was teaching stress management courses. Human beings are social animals. We receive all kinds of benefits from being around other people. We evolved that way because group survival is stronger than individual survival strategies. And all of the parts of our bodies are connected. When we say we have a gut feeling, there really is a direct connection between our digestive system and our capacity to experience pleasurable emotions. We enjoy intimacy with others. We get pleasure from a close hug. We are all aware of that. But the interesting thing is that scientists have discovered that part of what gives us the pleasure from closeness is that it stimulates the release of oxytocin in our bodies. It is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It is sometimes called the “love” hormone because secretions increase when we hug another person.

Here is the thing that I remember: Among other benefits of increased oxytocin is that it stimulates our immune system. More oxytocin in our system, more immunity. It is part of the phenomenon called “herd immunity” which is an evolutionary function that favors the overall health of the group as opposed to the survival of a single individual.

One of the things that we are being told will help us survive this pandemic is avoiding any personal contact with others. By decreasing contact, it is possible that we could lower our bodies’ ability to protect themselves from it. It makes it very difficult to know what is the right behavior.

I had plenty of time for my mind to wander, because there was no conversation going on in that store. People were hurrying around, trying not to look at one another. I’m sure others were doing what I was, trying to get what was needed and get out of the store as quickly as possible. The result was a very strange experience for someone like me who is used to being with people, talking with strangers, greeting everyone with a smile and paying attention to how others are feeling.

This pandemic is producing a lot of strange experiences.

I’m starting to get used to talking to people from the other end of the hallways at church. We are working hard to give everyone the space necessary to be safe and we are reminding people about washing hands as we work to keep surfaces clean, but my instinct is to get closer to folks. I’ve never been one for super close distances. I like to have my personal space, but the length of two hands stretched out to shake seems about right to me. My father once said to me that when you shake a rancher’s hand, watch him and when he lets go, he will show you how close he wants to stand to you. My father was a good salesman and most of his customers were ranchers. The trick seems to work with people of all kinds of occupations. If you watch someone, you can tell how comfortable they are and what their reaction to you is. But it is hard to judge facial expressions when people are wearing masks. I’m pretty sure that they aren’t all train robbers, but it’s hard to judge their reactions through the masks.

As I left the church at the end of the day yesterday, I noticed that there were four cars parked in the lot, with their back ends together and their front ends pointing outward. The hatchbacks were open on them and each car had one woman sitting in the back. One was wrapped up in a blanket, others had on their jackets. I guess it was their way of having a meeting - or just getting together with friends - while observing all of the rules of physical distancing. They were at least six feet apart.

The times in which we live are calling for us to explore our creative spirits in ways we did not expect. I’m having fun thinking of a new background for my daily prayers each day. I never thought I’d become a televangelist. I’m not one, really, but I do make a video every day and each has a different background than the one before. Who knows, maybe this just what I needed at this time in my career.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!