Caste My Character

It felt like a big deal to go visit a friend today. Face to face, in person, not via a video screen; togetherness the old-fashioned way.

With the benefit of an old-fashioned social ritual for comparison, these days of social isolation have shown me that I will always — 100% of the time — hold back over the phone or a video chat. Specifically, it feels like a won’t rather than a can’t. As if I am tolerating this. As if it is temporary. As if I can just play along to get through it until … when?

Even if I’m not lying or faking anything, I won’t be completely free. I’ll give you more, better, richer, deeper, in person from 6 feet away but not even a fraction of the same with a device. I hesitate to say less authentic but it is definitely less engaged and less invested. It’s important to acknowledge this because I am compromising what others may get out of a virtual exchange with me. If wellness is at stake here then I am definitely not helping.

I’ll also stay longer in person. On a screen I want to get the business done and get off the bandwidth. Say my piece and then say adios. In person I will linger, be more attentive, with little to no regard for how long it takes or what else I could be, should be, or want to be doing.

We agreed to meet for breakfast. I stayed well past lunch. And there was no activity planned. We scheduled the time just to be together and to talk; no agenda other than nourishment and togetherness. Feels remarkable these days. This isn’t normal anymore.

I say again that none of us have been in true quarantine. We are misusing that term. We are isolated though, yes and surely. And video contact may be enough for the bare minimum but now I see not only what I’ve been missing, but what I’ve missed giving. No one on the other side of a device is getting the best of me. I don’t get to experience the joy of sharing the best of me, or for that matter, the joy of initiating access to it.

I’m told exactly the opposite is more normal now. We’ve morphed into a collective in which far more people are far more comfortable communicating electronically and I am a relic. The new breed of human is far more expressive, honest, and engaged with a device versus in person. The New World order must be relieved; the folks who will open up freely over text and video will be stiff and closed-off and loathe to use their actual voice at all when forced to do so face to face. How the tide now shifts in their favor.

I’m told we are never going back the to our former normal, so people like me will be the ones newly disordered. Access denied. Parts of us disabled. Wither, starve, cease to thrive; not only because there’s no one to nourish us but because we can no longer experience the fulfillment of providing nourishment to others. Technology is wonderful and I love it. But consider the way a photo of art does not hold the same magic of the real thing. The memory of something being less magical than the experience of it because you just had to be there. The way a recording of something is less inspiring than hearing it live. So it is with our souls.

We may be able to survive but how will we thrive without the sharing of our physical presence? Safer from viral infection but soul sick from the losing therapeutic effect of sensual input. The sight of us, the sound of us, the feel of us physically present. Our scents, our touch, the way our bodies read and respond to each other. For those of us in the Old World order, who won’t fire on all cylinders without being physically present, there are no recipients for our live-audience gifts, ergo no joy in being a conduit.

Ask someone who was there. Does the video of it even come close to the experience of being there? Of course not. Show them a photo and what will you hear? It doesn’t even come close. Doesn’t do it justice. Can’t fully appreciate the feeling of it simply by regarding the image of it. The interactive image of someone blowing us a kiss will never measure up to the experience of being kissed. You get it. Life is better live, even if it is more risky.

This isn’t exactly new news, if I’m being honest. One of the harshest criticisms I’ve received is that I am not a very good friend because I won’t use the phone or a computer to keep a friendship active. That accusations is true. I won’t even do it with family. The assumption is that I don’t care. The same people are usually shocked when we see each other again in person and we are able to pick right back up where we left off; just as warm and close and intimate as we ever were. But if you judge my love by what I have to offer you over the phone, I am a bad friend who let Us die.

So if we never go back to normal, will folks like me be forced to adapt or will we die off like dinosaurs? We The Obsolete. Unwilling to assimilate. Must we evolve to become virtually vibrant, digitally dynamic, yet rigid, frigid, and distant in the flesh? How will we nurture? How will we cultivate intimacy? It’s already a movie script in my head wherein there are factions of dirty, dangerous Touchers and the sanitary, safe Untouched. All the things forbidden, all the things sanctioned. You can imagine.

My beloved heart says I will become an outlaw. I will violate the code. Willfully and wantonly. I’ll get to use the most romantic of our English words, such as clandestine, tryst, treacherous, illicit, and bane. At great risk and peril. My beloved pulse quickens. You’d understand if you’d ever gone a significant amount of time without being touched. Ungloved, of course. We dared to hug, my friend and I, as we parted. Too briefly, because we were being watched. As the disapproval of onlookers crept over us like spiders, I smelled her skin through her cotton and felt a shift within.

When they pass the laws I will break them. I will be part of the problem. You will use your children as justification for prosecuting me to the fullest extent of the law, even if it means killing me. Probably from a safe distance, from behind armor, to void the danger of my essence and quell my rebellion. I will die for the cause. Race won’t save me. Gender won’t save me. Religious affiliation not considered. You will swear by all that is holy that it is necessary, cleaving to your chemical catechism. And so will I.

— Mercy

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