We long for the return to being physically present for one another

In the Chart of Humanities, we collect the voices of experts from the Humanities for Health who told us about their guiding pillars at the time of COVID-19. We report here the testimony of Carol-Ann Farkas, Associate Professor at the Massachussets College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), Boston. 

Domestic context – Biological model 

I don’t know about you, but I hold my emotions in my body, so I can’t easily separate “how I feel” from “how I feel”… Many friends tell me that the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic is exhausting them. Others – me – respond with restlessness. We can’t settle. We can’t move enough. Dancers around the world are sharing classes, doing their barre in their kitchens; my trainer “visits” by Zoom; I walk outside as much as I can. And then…I sit. And sit. I think about Eliot’s “Old Gumbie Cat.”

Psychological model

I would have expected time to weigh heavily, to pass slowly, and yet, incredibly, each day seems to simply evaporate – it’s 6pm and I’m not sure what I’ve done… what I’ve *accomplished* that is. Remarkable how we’ve internalized the imperative to *be productive* – of what, exactly, I’m not sure. The pandemic is (should be) making us ask questions about the kinds of work that are really most important – spending time on bureaucratic process has come to feel unseemly compared to the efforts of doctors and nurses and grocery store clerks. As a privileged academic, working from home, from comfort, I wonder what contribution I’m making. “They also serve who only stand and wait…”

Social model

As we watched the pandemic unfold in Europe, and saw people making what connections they could, socializing from their balconies – singing and dancing together – I was hoping that would happen here…so far, despite the fact that I live in a densely-populated part of the city, my only contact with my neighbors has been our Facebook “community” page – which alternates between obsessive discussions about masks (how to make them, where to get them, whether to wear them) and hostile, petty complaints about how to move through our shared public spaces (there are two kinds of people, those who know and respect “2 meters” and those who don’t). It’s still very early spring here – perhaps as the weather improves, we’ll learn to be warmer with one another. Meanwhile – like everyone else in my neighborhood, I turn inward, and interact with others through through video and audio – friends drop in for dinner, we drink cocktails and talk chaotically at one another in our little squares on the chat apps. We’re grateful for the technology even as we feel its artificiality. We long for the return to being physically present for one another: voice, movement, expression, touch.

Spiritual model 

I didn’t think I had much to say in the domain of spirit… I’m not devout, not attending church service through zoom as some of my friends are doing; and, even as I’m sitting too much, I’m completely incapable of being able to sit still to meditate. And yet: I can do ballet in my kitchen. I can walk in the park. I can watch sparrows, grackles, cardinals, jays, a pair of mourning doves, and one optimistic squirrel gather around the bird feeder. The noise of the city has diminished in the pandemic, and with less noise from cars, there’s more space to hear the birds, the wind in the tree branches. It’s spring and every day there’s a bit more green, more blossoms, more to see, more to inhale. Some days, it’s warm enough to sit outside on the balcony and feel the sun. Even on dreary days, I can go to the park and be sheltered by trees.

Carol Ann Farkas

Professor of Medical Humanities, MCPHS, Massachussett College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University, Boston

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