In different places around the United States, professional photographers have walked up and down their neighborhood street, taking family portraits of people sitting on their porches. Practicing social distancing, they’ve taken snapshots of the households that exist today in our siloed self-quarantining, reminders of the togetherness in the midst of isolation. Someday, those pictures will serve as a visual memento to whatever period of time the history books will call the lost spring of 2020. It’s ironic, seeing these families on their porches, because that’s just not how Americans in general act today.
Flashback a month, or however many days you count backward to find the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, and mentally walk your neighborhood. How many people were sitting on porches, rocking in chairs, drinking sweet tea in the cool of the evening? How many neighbors looked up to wave, while they were weeding, mowing the lawn, or shooting baskets on the driveway hoop?
I’m betting my neighborhood isn’t too different from yours, and the answer that came to mind was “not many.”
I’m sure that a scientist could explain the way that air conditioning is changing the climate, something about CO2 and chemicals and such. But air conditioning certainly changed how much time people spent outside, relaxing and exchanging stories with their neighbors, as the opportunity to go inside and cool off became enticing. And then the coronavirus happened.
Maybe it’s because we were all hunter-gatherers at some point; maybe it’s because we were nomadic tribes before we were societies and cities. But there’s some innate pull to be outside that tugs at all of our hearts, and the forced nature of being stuck inside draws us back… outside.
What if we’re not SUPPOSED to be outside? In nature, pollen or not. Trading jokes and observations with the middle-aged neighbor pushing their kid in the stroller around the culdesac at night who needs to be reminded the child will get older and sleep through the night, or the younger neighbor walking their dog who lives by themselves and now works from home and craves just the simple acknowledgment that they exist in real life, or the elderly neighbor whose walk to the mailbox to get their junk mail is the sole outing they have to get them out of their house every day and realizes that saying “hello” on the way is their lifeline to a society that’s left them behind. Or maybe it’s just because YOU need to be outside so you can contemplate the beauty of the birds singing, or the stars glowing, or the gentle reminder of a rainbow after the rain.
We’re not alone, and we were never meant to be.
Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”