“I guess we shouldn’t shake hands,” one person says. “Probably not,” another replies. One extends a hand anyway. And the other grasps it.
It’s a social gesture some of us thought the coronavirus would kill. Yet it lives on.
I’ve seen a scene like this play out a few times in the past couple of weeks. It’s not that those involved don’t know the risks or disregard the science, it seems they simply have a deeper need for connection than they have fear of contracting COVID-19.
Shallow connections across social media don’t meet our needs. Facebook is great for spreading information — or misinformation — quickly, but it doesn’t foster deep relationships.
A conversation over a coffee or a beer is a world different than a comment on a post about the latest cute thing your kid or grandkid did.
After weeks of isolation at my house, I didn’t need a handshake, but I did need conversation. All the conversations of work that focused on what was and wasn’t getting done didn’t cut it. I needed to have some conversation without goals in mind.
One of my first trips out of the house was to my sister’s place in Atlanta. Three sisters, a couple of significant others and my baby nephew sat on the front porch, 6 feet apart, and it was a balm for my soul.
I don’t remember now what all we talked about, just how refreshing it was. The baby nephew contributed some very adorable smiles, too.
This past weekend, we gathered on another front porch.
All of my siblings, a couple of significant others and two of my mom’s friends gathered to talk about racism on my parents’ wide front porch.
Plenty of those conversations are happening on social media. Maybe some of them are productive. Those are so few and far between I usually notice them, like a diamond sparkling in the rough.
But this front porch conversation — this was good.
My mom had invited two black friends, and we talked about police brutality and education and profiling and colorism and looting and hiring practices — and whether it was OK to call them black. We talked about South Carolina and Clemson football. We talked about COVID’s impact on our respective professions.
Most of us did some talking. We all did some listening. The conversation only paused for the trains whistling past on the tracks just across the street.
Regardless of color, we can have some different opinions on some of these topics and the solutions our country needs.
And I know not all the opinions were reflected by those gathered on that porch, most or all with middle-class upbringings.
But it was productive conversation. We didn’t shout others’ down for their perspectives, we learned from them. OK, I might have done a little shouting later when it was just my siblings and me. Moving deeper into the issues and possible solutions can lead to tension.
But I’m craving more conversation, even if they’re sometimes tense. Conversations for myself, for society — spaces where we learn something more about a person than just their views on the topic at hand and move past the dichotomy of you’re wrong and I’m right.
That doesn’t mean we have to change our position or we can’t call out harmful words.
But can we extend a hand? Connect over shared needs?
There’s still some inherent risk to in-person gatherings, but let’s find some ways to have more conversations. If you’re craving that, let me know. I’ve got some ideas percolating.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent.