ACCOMPANYING THE ISOLATED
At times, it feels like the Covid-19 virus is playing with our feelings. At one moment, we think that we see the light at the end of the tunnel only to be told that temporary restrictions need to be introduced again to control the outbreaks. Of course, we have been often reminded that the pandemic is not over. However, fatigue sets in and we are tempted to believe that pre-pandemic normalcy is at hand.
Now, one would think that after one year of adapting to the pandemic crisis, we should be quite good at dealing with constantly changing circumstances. But it appears that adapting was actually easier last year. The year 2020 felt like a sprint. The situation was new and there was a sense of urgency in dealing with it. On the other hand, 2021 feels more like a marathon and we need to keep running.
Perhaps one reason why this year feels like a difficult test of our endurance lies in our human nature. The Church affirms that human beings are social by nature and this reality is central in the Catholic Social Teaching. This has often been articulated as the Principle of Association, which states that human persons are created, not to exist as isolated individuals, but to be in relationship with one another in a community. Unfortunately, the pandemic spreads faster making it necessary to introduce controls like socially distancing to slow its spread. But since we are social by nature, the longer we are unable to socialise, the harder it becomes over time to cope mentally.
For many of us, advanced communication technology has been a great help offering many non-physical ways to interact with one another. But not everyone has access to such technology. This is especially true for the elderly who find themselves on the other side of the “digital divide”. Pandemic restrictions are more challenging for them because many lack access to digital communication technology. And, even if they do, they are not adept at using it. Thus, the sense of isolation they feel is greater than what most of us experience.
Even as we try to cope better, we need to remember our seniors in our family and neighbourhood. How are they coping? Do they have meaningful access to the digital communication tools? Can we do something for them in a safe way so they can feel connected socially?
Perhaps this challenging time is an opportune moment to answer the invitation into the “art of accompaniment” issued by the Holy Father in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (EG). As Church, we need to be close to each other, especially to those who are struggling. Accompanying them is our duty as fellow children of God. However, we should also remember that our accompaniment must not be superficial. Rather, it must be “steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals” (EG, 169).
First published in Catholic News. Reprinted with permission.