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Becoming Isolated From Family, Friends

What is ripping apart our social fabric? Is it the effects of the COVID lockdown? Is it political bitterness?

Consider weddings and funerals.

In years past, I thought about Social Security in terms of myself or my wife and immediate family. I never consciously thought about childhood friends or acquaintances. But, whether I knew it or not, they were “in the picture” as I decided which political issues to support.

When I considered whether to donate to a charity, I never consciously thought about whether that charity was a favorite of this or that grandchild.

Who does — consciously?

But in earlier years, I was not as disconnected as I am now from high school classmates or grown grandchildren who live in other states.

I subconsciously broadened my thinking to include their welfare. I support increasing the full retirement age in order to keep Social Security solvent for other people I knew as youngsters.

I know some grandchildren are ardent animal welfare supporters. So I sometimes donate to local animal welfare causes with them in mind.

But those bonds are being weakened by the effects of the hoary “out of sight, out of mind” cliche.

A recent wedding and a funeral brought that disconnect home, hard.

Grandson Daniel and Katie had planned a 250-person ceremony pre-COVID. Last week, fewer than two dozen attended in person. My wife and I were not among them. At age 77 and with an eyebrow-raising health history (“Why are you still alive, Grandpa, with all those ailments?”) my attendance wasn’t realistic.

We grieved a bit. Family is important to us.

Daniel and Katie’s relatives came up with brilliant virtual comedy: About 50 smartphone videos, each below two minutes, played sequentially at the in-person reception.

Our video, I am told, was moderately near the top in hilarity, good wishes and lightheartedness.

That was nice. It showed us to them. But it didn’t show them to us. We did not extend family bonds and renew friendships as we had done at weddings of other grandchildren.

That “in this together” mindset used to make it easy for me, a strident conservative, to josh and joke with family and friends who range from political apathy to strident wackos (I say that with kindness, familial wackos).

But if I post “wackos” today on Facebook, I can almost see the spittle from bitterly compressed lips flinging deeply personal insults. We call them “them.” We do not call them “fellow Americans.”

Ugh. We are coming apart at the seams.

The recent funeral that deepened the isolation was for one of my childhood best friends.

Back in the 1940s-50s, a half-dozen or so guys (no girls, oddly enough) from the same hillside neighborhood schooled, Scouted, hunted and hung out together from kindergarten until into our college years. Every morning, we took mile-long walks to and from junior and senior high school — literally uphill both ways, because Warren is a hilly town. We bonded on those walks.

The “best friend” varied. It could have been Tom, Denny, Pat, Tommy, Joe, Johnny Robert, Richard, Jerry, Jimmy. That would depend on who had crushes on the same girl, who liked which baseball team, whose mother was the best cook.

We were all “best” in one sense or another.

Last month, Tom died.

I had been in his wedding. After college, we had gone our separate ways. But we loved each other as guys love, with ribaldry on occasion, always pleased to see each other.

Last year, I would have stayed all day at the funeral in Warren, reconnecting with that “best friends” group. I could have told “Tom” stories to his grandchildren. Of course, I would have labeled Tom as the instigator and me as the virtuous, unsuspecting accomplice (Ahem!). I might have eased his wife’s pain with a laugh, or even cried silently as I hugged Roxie.

But, no. COVID.

I did go to the funeral. But I could not stay. I am COVID high risk. Other funerals have spread that wretched virus. I spent perhaps 10 minutes conveying condolences, and then felt solitary on the drive back home.

I didn’t get to rekindle my bonds of community among people now scattered across the country. Neither did they.

COVID. Dammit.

If I had stayed, we would have done the “no politics” dance – or, especially if wine had been handy, tried to guard our statements at this time when every opinion seems to bring out an epithet.

Politics. Dammit.

We are coming apart at the seams as a country.

Weddings and funerals that could renew our bonds are shrunken, shortened, distanced, rendered nearly impotent as we huddle against this disease, as we guard our views about the approaching election lest we shatter friendships in fights, verbal or even physical.

COVID. Politics. Dammit.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.

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