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  • Writer's pictureMarisa Guerin

Joy, Presence, and Hugs

Marisa Guerin, PhD – May 3, 2021

There have been weeks for stress, and weeks for sadness, and weeks and months and a year for enduring the long, long, slog of Covid-isolation. But I can’t help myself from erupting into a happy dance just now!! Mike and I are emerging from our Safer-At-Home sojourn, at long last reconnecting with our friends and family!

I’ll stop with the exclamation points now, since they are tiresome, but do imagine them after every sentence in this posting.

As Mike and I and our friends and family and Church community have become vaccinated-folks, we are now in the very midst of emerging from our fourteen months of isolation, full of amazement and joy and wonder. In the space of about a month, it’s all busting-open. (Safely, of course, observing all the right precautions in public spaces.)

Mike and I drove down to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to visit long-time friends, stayed in an inn, ate in a restaurant with our friends, and marveled at how wonderful and normal it was. And there were HUGS.

We’ve been to dinner at the homes of friends, and felt immersed in the happiness of presence, affection, and conversation. And there were HUGS.

We met our faithful Saturday-Pub-Zoom group in a real pub to watch the Kentucky Derby, first time physically together in over fourteen months. We felt like we had escaped the domain of the flatlanders and popped back into the normal universe as three-dimensional beings, drinking actual beer. We were practically giddy with the excitement of it all. And there were HUGS.

Next weekend, we’ll gather with my siblings and their partners, noshing on whatever everyone brings – which will surely be enough to feed four times as many – and hugging just for the fun of it, whenever we feel like it. Talking will NOT stop.

I have been able to drive up to actually visit, in-person, with my friend and co-writer, Br. Joe; I’ve been able to meet other friends for a glass of wine and torrents of conversation at center city sidewalk bistros. And there were HUGS.

In two weeks, we will venture onto airplanes to visit Mike’s family in South Dakota and in Missouri. We haven’t been able to see them for almost a year and a half, missing a wedding and two graduations in the process. We are so anxious to reconnect, and to HUG.

One of these days, it will get to be time to see our other Zoom-companions in person, too – the Roses, and the Penn Friends, and the next generation of family, and my ISPSO colleagues, and our neighborhood groups.

All this has been exhilarating, and also exhausting. I’m an introvert to start with, and all this physical energy is suddenly flying around as we converse, smile, listen, think, and react. Please note – it’s ok to feel like you have to take a nap just because you met long-missed friends for lunch. In fact, take the nap. The tiredness and the sense of having sore, long-unused social muscles are real things.

I hope I never forget this re-discovery that for us humans, there is gi-huge-ic importance in being physically present to one another, to be able to speak, see, breathe with and touch each other. (And of course – get the theme? – HUG).

I couldn’t help but think about this as I was reading some passages in The Code Breaker, by Walter Isaacson. It’s about Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues and the transformational discovery of the CRISPR gene editing tool. From the book:

“Long-distance collaborations work well in science—and especially in the CRISPR field, as Barrangou and Horvath showed. But physical proximity can spark more powerful reactions; ideas gel when people have tea at places like the Free Speech Movement Café. ‘Without those CRISPR conferences, the field would not have moved at the speed it has or be as collaborative,’ Barrangou says. ‘The camaraderie would never have existed.’ The conference rules were loose and trusting. People could talk informally about data they had not yet published, and the other participants would not take advantage of that. ‘Small meetings, where unpublished data and ideas can be shared and everyone helps everyone, can change the world,’ Banfield later noted. *

This is so, so true; it laid the foundation for how the global scientific community was able to generate vaccines at what seemed to all to be miraculous speed. I’m sure there are professional societies all over the world – including me and my colleagues at ISPSO (the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations) – who are starved for the in-person intellectual and personal connections that are essential to innovation and progress in their endeavors.

Now, obviously this elation, this marvelous feeling of respite from a life in lock-down, will dissipate. There will be waves of riskier times and waves of safer times, and the world is still wobbling as it tries to come through the pandemic without too much destruction. My heart hurts for the incredible grief and fear of the people of India, Brazil, and any place where the ravages of the disease are uncontrolled. I am humbled and aware of my unearned privilege as an American, having access to the vaccines that every single person needs.

The new normal is arriving. It will involve accepting the realities of a world that suffers pandemics. Zoom is a new modality that will not disappear, and that is a good thing. I am hopeful that I have learned some things from this experience, that I will not make my freer life over-busy, and that I can stay grounded in the simplicity of the more domestic life I have come to live.

But for now, I am overcome with joy and with gratitude for all that is beautiful and precious, all the people and the world that we love so much, with all of its messes and hurts. At least, we are in it together, again.

* Isaacson, Walter. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race (p. 93). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

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