This is a time of upheaval for me, literally. After five months at our home in Florida, an extended stay due to COVID-19, we are journeying 1500 miles home in our RV. I’m sure a time of unexpected pleasures, and uncertainties, lie ahead.
Perhaps that is the motivation for today’s Shabbat encouragement. The uncertainties, and yet, the anticipated pleasures.
Right before our departure, my son and his wife who live in Colorado, and of course the adorable grandbaby, made a last minute visit to us over Father’s Day weekend. Given that Florida was becoming a new epicenter for the virus, flying there seemed counter-intuitive. The primary motivation, however, was to allow my daughter-in-law to be able to spend quality time with her mother who is worsening daily with dementia. The two had not been able to connect in person for seven months due to various obstacles, so my daughter-in-law’s parents had arranged to dock their yacht (!) near our Florida home. Guaranteed babysitting assistance by me to facilitate one-on-one time for my daughter-in-law and her mom, as well as great times together. A joy-filled weekend, despite the uncertainties that came with that decision.
It was a pleasurable result for all, that is, except for my east coast son and his family, which includes two of my other grandchildren. They fall on the opposite side of the spectrum regarding precautions to be taken during this COVID-19 time frame, choosing not to leave their home at all, other than for that son’s well protected trips to the grocery store only every two weeks. My New York family felt our actions last weekend were irresponsible. The conversation as to how and whether we should visit them on our way home has been quite different.
I have been informed by my east coast son that he really wants to see Sid and me so he has suggested we meet outside with face masks for 30 minutes twelve feet apart. Just him, not his wife and child, since he does not want to further endanger them with exposure to the virus. The contrast in experience last weekend to the conversations with him have given me the ability to ponder and pray about the situation. My thoughts are just personal. Each person’s journey during these times is between each of us and HaShem.
Caught in the middle, my lot in life, I wrote for my children what I’m dubbing “Grandma’s Manifesto” about visits during these COVID-19 days. I came to two guiding principles – priorities and probabilities. During these times, and probably at all times, I am prioritizing my personal relationships with family and loved ones. I am balancing my choice to be with them with the probabilities of whether doing so is too risky. If my loved ones were regularly going to bars or in crowded areas of maskless people, I would make a different decision than if they are being smart in their choices – one-on-ones, socially distancing as needed, enjoying outdoor spaces, observing good sanitary habits, face masks as appropriate. I would want my time with them and their time with me to feel relaxed and enjoyable. To do so also involves not only thinking about myself, but about them, their sensibilities as well. So once I establish my boundaries, if I have decided to interact, I will do so in a way that is mindful of how to do this in a way that is comfortable for them.
In thinking that through, the message became clear. It really doesn’t matter where you stand on the “This is a hoax/we’re all going to die” spectrum. For after prayer and research, once you decide your place on that continuum, if you have decided you are comfortable with a visit on some terms that you believe in, your interaction choice with others will always be right if you follow our Messiah’s teachings – to feel what it feels like to walk in your brother’s and sister’s shoes. Regardless of your opinion, once you have established your own comfort level and boundaries, your choice to be around others can be guided by how your being together will feel from their point of view.
If in my analysis, my priority is relationship with family and loved ones, and if in my analysis, the probability of being with them being a COVID exposure to any of us is high, I won’t visit, or if I do, I will use extra precautions (face mask, etc.) On the other hand, if I feel they have been observing good safety measures and making healthful decisions, and if I have as well, and if they feel that way about me, we will visit with the comfort level practices that work for us who are in the conversation. My behavior will be guided by being sensitive to how my actions affect those with whom I am interacting.
Conversely, If I’m good with the protocols of the visit, but the other family member or friend with whom I am about to visit is not and feels more protections are needed, I will respect their sensibilities and use more precautions in my time with those loved ones, for I would put myself in their shoes rather than impose my way onto them. In both cases, we will choose not to seek or subject ourselves to the opinions of others not part of the interaction.
Bottom line: less social distancing and no masks with the Colorado kids. Willing to visit my son on his terms in New York as I put myself in his shoes.
My purpose in sharing is not to provide answers for others, but rather, just to provide a peek at some ways to think about what I know are the same questions we all are facing. Even if you feel face masks are unnecessary outdoors, perhaps their worth is helping a loved one feel less anxious, the more important lesson being the walk in the shoes of someone with fear. If that is not possible from your own integrity point of view, perhaps the choice is not to interact rather than act unlovingly to another. Or you may do as I do, prioritize the relationship with the loved one as more important than agreeing with their position.
No one has “the answer” in these complex situations except for HaShem. All we can do is the best we can to be true to ourselves, and not make this path for others any more difficult than it already is. Perhaps the great divisiveness on this issue is yet another test for mankind to begin to learn, somehow, someway, how to resolve our differences in the only way that works –
To love your neighbor as yourself.