Six Feet Separation; Six Feet Under


The current continuing crisis has been likened to the catastrophes of war, except in war-time we can usually huddle together. It’s agreed that this is worse than 9/11, which at least brought people together in their distress.  It’s more like entering a war whose outcome and unexpected afflictions keep piling up — afflictions often deadly for those over seventy. There is neither tear gas nor bombing, but the fear and panic, disorientation and rupture of daily life, must be reminiscent of European and Asian life during World War II.  Death counts don’t bear comparison. But could social isolation be far greater than during wartime?

           As morgues are inundated, coffins pile up and mourners grieve in isolation.  This is the bitterest part.

This, from the news, one among many insightful journalistic discussions in the daily news.  Here are further striking examples.

    Great Neck is a Jewish community. Here, the concept of ‘social distancing’ is about as kosher as a double-bacon cheeseburger.  We do not  shake hands. Anything less than a tight hug and double kiss is considered antisocial. Here, social distancing is a wedding that only has 400 people.  That’s because of the     nature of Judaism.  Dependence is a dirty word in a secular American culture   that glorifies self-reliance.  Judaism is built on interconnectedness.  Nearly everything we do requires gathering a community

Here is an opinion page savant quoting the late George Steiner (again, no source).

             Europe’s cultural identity is founded on characteristics largely missing in the US, where car culture, suburban sprawl and great open spaces engender a sense of separateness. Europe has a culture of coffee houses and cafes, places open to all, where people meet, read, write, and plot. There are places for assignation and conspiracy, for intellectual debate and gossip, for the flaneur and the poet or metaphysician at his notebook

          Europe is a pedestrian culture, founded on squares and small streets, usually named after scholars and statesmen famous for their works and their massacres.  Europe is “walked” and distances are on a human scale.

Steiner is quoted again in another piece:

      The European sense of death and decay is an eschatological self-awareness that may well be unique to European consciousness. Deep in Christianity and European philosophy is a more or less tragic finality.  It is as if  Europe, unlike other civilizations, had intuited that it would one day collapse under the paradoxical weight of its achievements.

And a simple news report:

   Mrs. Fusco died after spending Wednesday “gravely ill” and breathing with help from a ventilator, unaware that her two oldest children had died. Nearly 20 other relatives are quarantined at their homes, praying in isolated solitude, unable to mourn their deep collective loss together.  “It is so pitiful,” her daughter added. “They can’t even mourn the way you would.”

Mortality prompts meditations on the grand sweep of preceding life.

We’re witnessing a culture trying in quiet moments to reflect on the wider meanings of sociability and mortality.

[Maybe it’s time to reread Camus’ The Plague]



3 comments on “Six Feet Separation; Six Feet Under

  1. Ed Mooney says:

    In the three days since posting this I notice more and more reference in the papers to the dangers of isolation. On the up side, I notice more and more instances of people reaching out to make friendly contact — the staff at the corner grocer, a choir friend offering to shop for me, another friend calling to chat for the first time in our friendship.

  2. John OBrien says:


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