By Chana Even-chen
As we start to peek out of our houses more, and slowly emerge on Shabbat afternoons to walk around the neighborhood, we meet others doing the same… and it’s so refreshing to greet our friends face to face… some of whom we haven’t seen in person in weeks. “New Normal” is the phrase of the day… trying to get used to the current guidelines out of the house, and trying to guess or imagine how the next few months look.

One aspect of our current “normal” that I find hard to adjust to is the lack of physical contact. No handshakes, hugs, pats on the back. On one hand, I appreciate personal space and personal boundaries. As my son recently said, “We should totally keep at least a one meter rule even after the pandemic. It would be an improvement in the culture!”

On the other hand, I also really appreciate greeting a friend with a hug, and showing emotional support and connection to friends through touch. It feels awkward to see a close friend in person after so long and to stop short just as my natural inclination would be to give her a hug.  Plus there’s the mask… literally covering up half of our expression. I find that it feels much harder to feel connected and natural in these encounters. And is it just a momentary awkwardness, or will it actually effect closeness and connection over time?

That’s when I realized – hey, I’ve actually been training for this my whole married life! By choosing to keep the “harchakot” – the tradition of physical separation between a husband and wife during the time of Nida – I’d been practicing for this for 22 years.  Learning how to be close even when you are far.

Learning to communicate real emotions and to connect in an essential way without relying on physical contact is one of the challenges and opportunities for growth for a couple keeping this tradition.  Now, I’m not equating the role of touch between a couple with touch between friends.  But I am saying that there are times when we need to challenge ourselves to develop different, varied, alternative ways to convey real feelings and connections, and that it is not only possible, but can be enriching and bonding as well.

So, as we move back into a social reality and try to regain a sense of normalcy, I will take strength from this realization. Knowing that the technical restrictions on our interactions with others may create physical distance, but don’t need to translate into emotional distance. That with awareness, intentionality  and some creativity, we can maintain healthy, close and supportive connections.

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay