Social and other distancing…..
In the last eight weeks or so we’ve all learned a new vocabulary. Shielding has always meant protection, but last year internet searches for shielding were mostly about protecting ourselves against electricity or radiation rather than a virus. Self-isolation was something the anti-social chose to do. Social distancing meant…..well, what did it mean? I’m not sure I’d heard it before, so maybe it’s very much a new phrase for these strange times?
We mightn’t have done social distancing before, but we did do distancing. As either groups or individuals, we’ve long ignored other groups of people – those we don’t like, don’t agree with, don’t understand, who make us uncomfortable, or those we choose to forget about. Sometimes this is active ignoring, sometimes it’s simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind”.
Christian Aid Week started yesterday (10 May). That’s often our annual reminder about those living in other parts of the world. Even if we don’t take an interest in overseas matters, we’re reminded of their needs by that little red envelope coming through our letterboxes, and later collected by a local volunteer. This year, social distancing won’t allow the traditional envelope delivery and collection. So we’re all encouraged to visit Christian Aid’s website and give online.
As we observe the social distance we need here in the UK, to keep our households and neighbourhoods safe, Christian Aid Week invites us to think about how we can step across another kind of social distance, and stand alongside those who’re so much more at risk. We’re encouraged to cast our eyes wider and remember those across the world with the least resources to respond effectively to the pandemic.
Social distancing here makes us more mindful, as we put a lot of our instincts on hold, and pay attention to our physical habits in a new way. We’re becoming more aware of the literal distance between us when we shop or take exercise. We’re trying to remember to wash our hands more often and for much longer than many are used to. And we’re also learning the crucial importance of so many unromantic jobs in public service without which we’d be lost – jobs done with selfless professionalism that provide us with what we need. Whether it’s health professionals routinely staffing intensive care units, or shelf-stackers, posties, delivery people, and rubbish collectors – we’ve learnt how much we need them. Even in someone stepping aside on a footpath to allow us to go past at the right distance, we can recognise that living thoughtfully rather than just letting our own comfort and convenience dictate everything is something life-giving.
Just as physical distancing in our local community preserves life, let’s all pledge to widen our distance of concern so that we still see and respond to the needs of the world. Christian Aid week provides just the opportunity to do that.