Brian Mittge Commentary: I'm Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry for Human Contact

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“Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness...”

— Knowles Shaw, 1874, “Bringing in the Sheaves”

 

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that most pandemic restrictions in our state will end by June 30, or earlier if vaccination rates hit 70%. On the same day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks.

The news that life is suddenly heading back to normal came almost as abruptly as the sudden pandemic rules that were imposed 14 months ago.

This thing might finally be over, mostly.

I have my second Moderna immunization scheduled for Sunday, and I’m already making plans for activities once my immunity is full, two weeks later.

As much as I’m looking forward to a return to “a new normal,” as they say, I somehow found myself unsettled with Thursday’s news. Or maybe I’m still suffering a hangover from the last year or two.

It’s not the pandemic restrictions that have bothered me so much. I saw the need for them. After all, this has been the worst global pandemic since my grandfather was born a century ago during the Spanish Influenza outbreak — which was the deadliest since the Bubonic Plague.

No, it’s the bitter divisions between loved ones, neighbors, friends and family that have me feeling so out of sorts.

Last year’s presidential election was particularly radioactive, with fallout that continued even after the votes were counted. We’re irradiated by bitterness still.

Disagreements over pandemic restrictions were another point of division. I had my opinions and still do, but I’ve always tried to listen to others and find the insights in their points of view. I don’t have all the answers and I enjoy the perspective of others. But this time around, it didn’t come so easily.

Rules requiring masks were never necessary for me. The Bible’s commandment to show mercy and care for “the least of these” was enough. However, I understood those who saw mask mandates as visible repressions of freedom. I get both sides.

So while mask rules never bothered me, I’m honestly glad that they’re going away. They have been a clear and present visible reminder of the divisions among us.

I don’t want to paper over the divide. I want to try to surmount it. And it’s been hard — often too hard for me lately.

I’ve always believed in getting to know someone and focusing on what we share, what we enjoy in common, what mutual beliefs we can build upon, and what I can learn from them. That usually works for me and has given me a wonderfully diverse, rewarding and edifying group of friends.

But over the last year we’ve been leading with our disagreements instead of our commonalities.

It’s been unavoidable, I guess. Without being able to meet in person (again, for legitimate reasons — although I understand those who disagree), we’ve had to rely on pale imitations of human contact. Facetime, Facebook — all sorts of shallow replacements for face-to-face.

Now that those of us who want vaccines have had access to them, we can begin to rebuild those in-person relationships.

I just worry that some have been damaged in a way that will be tough to salvage.

I don’t want to lead with divisions any more. I don’t want to define relationships by opinions on masks, or political candidates, or these “you’re the enemy if you disagree” situations.

As we reopen, we can choose our new normal. We can choose to reengage with folks as people, not as embodiments of philosophies that are fully evil or unquestionably virtuous.

It might begin by turning off social media in favor of more earthy pursuits. I’ve been doing more gardening during the pandemic. I’m sowing carrots, broccoli, lettuce, sugar snap peas.

I’m also going to be sowing seeds of kindness in the months ahead as we reopen to a beautiful world that suddenly will be full of people again. Who needs social media when you can actually socialize?

I have apologies to make for bridges that I’ve damaged with fire. I want to reengage in a way that builds something stronger. Maybe all of us should emerge from this pandemic with firm resolve to forgive and forget.

This has been a rough year and we've all been a little “hangry” as we starved for normal life. Maybe we all just need a snack and a little humility to tell people “I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry for human contact.”

Maybe the medicine we need after the plague is a bounty of grace for others, and even for ourselves.

This has been a year that many of us might want to forget. I hope it teaches us lessons that we always remember.

•••

Brian Mittge has been writing for The Chronicle as a reporter, editor and community member since 2000. He can be reached at brianmittge@hotmail.com.

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