The Importance Of Physical Presence

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O how our lives have dramatically taken a turn since 2020!

Fingers are now crossed that somehow 2021 will not take the same route, notwithstanding we are almost done with the first half.

As is typical of humans, we have quickly adapted, gobbled up newness and new ways of doing things. New terms easily flow from our lips, “remote learning, social distancing, telecommuting, breakout rooms.” I wonder what babies born in the last one year are thinking about the new masked look. We must be quite a sight to these little ones! What a nuisance it has been with all the masking- trying to walk, talk, breath, or sing masked, with communication restricted to studying people’s eyes – hampered especially on those who deck eyeglasses and caps/hats besides the masks. Meetings, conferences are occurring without show of face. It almost feels like people are getting more and more comfortable with the “hiding” behind screens.

On one hand, the season has allowed for more freedom, minimal commute- sigh of relief for those in major cities prone to traffic snarl-ups- and probably even more productivity on our to do lists. There is a heightened blend of work and family with little ones scampering around as parents work remotely. To keep costs managed and businesses running, some organizations have decided to have employees work from home permanently, some have downsized their office premises, vacated to smaller offices or outrightly sold out. It has been oddly fascinating being part of this whole transitioning world.

On the other hand, many people have found themselves alone, hugs and handshakes now seem like a curse-transferring act. The bereaved have mourned alone, with no people to hold them when they are breaking down under the weight of loss and deep suffering. Hospital visits to the sick who are fearful that this may be the end of the road for them have been curtailed to a large extent as people try to “keep safe.” Celebrations have become low key, graduations, weddings, and other events once deemed as “physical presence- driven.” However, none of these can negate the fact that physical presence is of absolute importance.

The nuisance of masking

Masks of all colors, getting fancier by the day as the designers, marketers and brand experts seek markets and visibility. This little “karembeko” has continued to literally “distance” people not just emotionally but also psychologically. But one thing masks have clearly revealed is that our communication- both verbal and nonverbal- is best when it also involves communion, not just words. We no longer get to see people’s faces light up in an eye-mouth-in-unison kind of smile. Now we know that besides listening with our ‘hearts and ears,’ we can also “listen” with our ‘eyes’ because push has come to shove with these masked appearances. These masks are certainly hiding more than just our faces- a significant part of our personality and souls. 

Nonverbal communication

There is something we can never tear ourselves from – doing life together, the place of community, fellowship, gatherings, celebrations. Humans are social beings- made for companionship. Interaction. Relationship. Made to be with others as per our maker’s manual, His very nature and image. Even Jesus the son of God showed up in flesh and dwelt among men for over three decades, not just for a fleeting moment. It is just not good for man to be alone.

There is also a place for nonverbal communication as we seek to understand each other in communication. There are innumerable ways that the most subtle forms of body language add to the experience of understanding the other person. Cheeks, shifting brows, lip motion, all speaks tons. Facial expressions reveal a deeper level of connection and response in communication. Studying eyes is just not enough; the mouth, the nose, all help decipher the communication expressions. Now we are having to try and gauge whether those eyes are laughing, twinkling, smiling, grinning, sneering, or frowning. We are having trouble gauging the weight of the matter on an individual as well as the impact of our words- whether for good or bad.

The blessing of physical presence.

This parent is trying to plan her child’s graduation party, in the face of covid- 19 protocols, social distancing, crowding and curfew hours adherence. She is in a dilemma about who to invite and who to leave out among close friends and family; people who consider themselves (and justly so) as permanent stakeholders in the story of her life- this is Africa, where the social fabric is intact but now subtly threatened- a dilemma indeed. So she resorts to a strictly family affair.

This is where sheltering in for months has left us- somehow, we all have recognized in totally unexpected ways how living and communicating behind masks and screens hinder the meaning of being human. Despite managing to meet deadlines and complete our to-do lists week after week, it is just not the same. There is something very special, even divine, about sharing actual, physical space with another human being. Physical presence ushers us into the others’ world of emotions, experiences, fears, ideas, and creativity in innumerable matchless ways. It is who we are and what we were made for- relationship, companionship, interaction. We were made for community- to be with each other. We are stronger together. Any time community gets a rift, division happens and leads to mayhem. Does ‘divide and rule’ sound familiar here?

“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25, NLT

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Ps 133:1,3

“Step into the water, wade in a little bit deeper, wet your feet in the waters….” goes an old oldie.

To wet one’s feet, one has to step into the waters.

To get warmer, one must get closer to the fire.

To thrive as a human, one must somehow stay connected to community.

It is just not good for man to be alone.

Togetherness yields, strength, joy, unity, peace, oneness, intimacy, blessing, life. Togetherness helps people to be in tune and in touch with each other. People become aware of what others are working on, how they are doing it, and the successes and troubles they are experiencing. Socially distanced-screen time and break out room experience will never provide this. Despite the best of intentions to resolve conflict through electronic mediation, or counseling a suicidal teen through media platforms, Tech will never fully replace what interpersonal collaboration does in the lives of people.

Post-COVID-19 life must Revisit physicality and presence. Considering we have spent the last one year sheltering in, masking-up, and locking down, our life priorities must take the right side up to remind us just how true the blessing of being physically present and connected to the community is critical to every human being.

References

  1. Images from https://www.shutterstock.com

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