Can a Pandemic Bring Us Back Together?


Every Friday night for the past eight years or so, my son and daughter-in-law and our two grandsons come to our house for dinner. It’s a rather typical American family tradition—having dinner together once a week. Often, we’ll invite friends to join us, make it a potluck, play games. It’s become a well-worn ritual. But as I thought about this coming Friday, instead of wondering who to invite and what to make for dinner, I thought about “social distancing,” and pondered things that I was embarrassed to admit, even to myself: What if the grandsons had picked up the Coronavirus at school and were silent carriers? Should I invite one of my friends who is dealing with cancer? We don’t want to infect her! And what if her husband—a lawyer who often argues cases in New York City courts is infected and doesn’t know it? I thought of other friends and all sorts of travel and work and health-related reasons why not to invite them. Hell, I could be carrying the virus myself. My husband and I went to the movies the other night. Should we have done that? Should I just call off dinner?

Suddenly, instead of feeling anxious about the virus, as I have been for the past few weeks, I felt sad. I felt lonely. I thought of those people quarantined on a ship, or in a nursing home, or a town in Italy, or an apartment building in China. All of us longing for contact with the ones we love, the folks we enjoy, the people who need us. Instead of my usual confusion about how best to protect myself and my family, or my anger about the bungled governmental response, or my fear for the local and world economies, I felt a tenderness toward all of us humans as we struggle with this new normal. I felt an odd sense of respect for the virus and what it was showing us about how we have been living, how we react to crisis, and what gifts may be hidden in the disruption, what wisdom might be gleaned if we step back a little from the chaos.

In an article in the New Yorker Magazine, the environmentalist Bill McKibbon writes that perhaps once the virus is contained, and we have experienced what it feels like to be isolated from friends and family and community, “we’ll learn to substitute human contact for endless consumption; maybe this is the kind of shock that might open a few eyes.” That’s exactly what I am hoping for, too. That by being denied normal communing, we will remember the primacy of connection, care, and the pleasure of gathering and working together. I don’t think it will take that long for us to yearn for the most simple acts we take for granted every day: hugging a friend in the grocery story, attending a school play, sharing lunch at work with colleagues, going out to sporting events, or the movies, or a town meeting….all the things we crave as social animals.

We are already living in disconnected times. Maybe this enforced seclusion of canceled events, social distancing, and quarantines will wake us up to what’s really important. Once we can really be with each other again, once the anxious hand-washing, glove-wearing, elbow-bumping, telecommuting days are over, maybe we’ll be more likely to put down the electronic gadgets, stop being so judgmental and divided, and instead be more present, more open-hearted, more HUMAN. Maybe Coronavirus can teach us that.  Until then, let’s try to be kind and patient, let’s try not to panic. Read this, and let’s remember when it’s all over, how much we missed the simple things that matter most.

This essay was featured in the March 15th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Elizabeth Lesser is the author of several bestselling books, including Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes; Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. She is the cofounder of Omega Institute, recognized internationally for its workshops and conferences in wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change, and is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a collection of a hundred leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.

phone mockup of the sunday paper

Get Above the Noise
Subscribe to The Sunday Paper

phone mockup of the sunday paper

An award-winning newsletter that Inspires Hearts and Minds — and Moves Humanity Forward. We publish premium content that makes you feel Informed, Inspired, Hopeful, Seen, Supported, and most importantly not alone on your journey to The Open Field.